Petroglyph National Monument has several distinct areas. The volcanoes had been visited last summer. Today we visited Piedras Marcadas Canyon. This is a short hike in the area where the west mesa joins the sandhills on the west side of the Rio Grande river valley.
It was a wonderful afternoon for a hike; some thin clouds diffused the sunlight so it was not too hot. Rain the night before had cooled off the areas to a pleasant temperature. The sandy path is along the base of the mesa, with opportunity to clamber on the basalt rocks if desired.
As its name implies, Piedras Marcadas (“marked rocks”) is known for the petroglyphs inscribed on the blocks of basalt. In ancient times, a lava flow covered the area west of the river in a layer of basalt. The flow stopped before reaching the river, and over time the softer soil was eroded from underneath the lava, leaving a ledge of rock. The ledge eventually broke, creating a jumble of boulders along the edge of the west mesa.
Weathering created a patina on the rocks. People would remove this patina to create contrasting areas that form the petroglyphs.
I was not able to identify all the wildlife that was seen in the canyon. There was a pair or mourning doves, a small sparrow, several lizards, a chipmunk, something that may have been a large chipmunk, gopher, or ground squirrel (it was far away and shone white in the afternoon sun), and a jackalope! OK, so maybe it was only a jackrabbit, but it could have been a jackalope!
I tracked the jackalolpe … er … jackrabbit across the canyon floor, attempting to sneak close enough to get a good picture, but the creature was too wily and cunning to allow himself to be captured that way. These animals can blend in to the desert landscape so well that they become practically invisible unless they move. When motion is first detected, out of the corner of one’s eye, this rodent can easily be taken for a coyote, based on size alone. They can be huge!
I just bought a point-and-shoot camera and this was the first outing for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10. Why do I need this camera? When hiking in the desert and mountains, one should always be prepared with water, jacket/blanket, first aid kit, etc. A day pack works nicely for carrying this kit. But I carry my Pentax DSLR in a Targus backpack, and this leaves no room for another pack. A small P&S camera can be carried on my belt so that a day pack can also be carried.
Of course, I always carry my iPhone with me, and it take good enough pictures for my purposes. However, the iPhone (and most P&S cameras) does not do well for taking photos at a distance. Birds and wildlife come out as little black dots because they are usually too far away. The DMC-ZS10 has a 16X zoom, and this is the feature that sold me on it. The features of this camera are:
- 14.5 Megapixel resolution
- 16X zoom, both wide angle and telephoto
- Still and full HD video modes
- GPS for geotagging photos
Here’s what I learned about this camera today. Note this is the first time I have used it, so there may be some learning curve still to come.
- I was expecting the camera to have a “sleep” mode where the display would go off and the lens would retract after some time of unuse. It does not have this, so I ended up turning the power off after each shot, mostly so the lens would retract and the camera would be easier to carry in my hand.
- The zoom does indeed bring in distant objects and the anti-shake helps steady the photo.
- There is no viewfinder; one uses the rear LCD screen to compose a shot. I prefer using a viewfinder, but I did not expect lack of one to be as big an issue as it became. Especially when zoomed in, I found it difficult to locate the subject on the screen.
- The GPS has settings for ON, OFF, and Airplane. The airplane mode turns the GPS on and off with the camera. When ON, the GPS continues to run (and drain the battery) when the camera is turned off. I elected to use the Airplane mode mostly so I would not forget to turn off the GPS at the end of the day. However, this is not a good choice, as the GPS takes a while to locate itself when it first starts up. As a result, my first few pictures on this adventure did not have a location. Problem solved when I set the GPS to ON and let it run continuously. Of course, I did forget to turn off the GPS when I got home, and by morning the battery was 1/3 depleted.