Piedras Marcadas Canyon

As well as being part of the Petroglyph National Monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon is part of Albuquerque Open Space. The city provides a parking area with a short walk through a neighborhood to get to the canyon. (Click any photo to enlarge.)

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.

Albuquerque can be seen on the east side of the Rio Grande.

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.

The basalt boulders on the slope, covered with a desert patina, are ideal for inscribing various images.

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.

Aspiring artists across the ages have left their marks on the rocks.

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!

Later visitors don't always respect previous artists' work. Not the bullet holes some marksman has placed in the images of the hands.

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!

Not all petroglyphs are from ancient times. People have continued scribing images int modern days. This one looks like Spongebob Squarepants to me!

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.

Does this look like a musical note to you?

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:

The ZX-10 was not impressive in finding wildlife on the max zoom setting. Autofocus is slow, and without a viewfinder, I found it difficult to locate the aim point. Do you see a jackarabbit in this photo? Me neither.

  • 14.5 Megapixel resolution
  • 16X zoom, both wide angle and telephoto
  • Still and full HD video modes
  • GPS for geotagging photos
  • anti-shake

Of course, the rabbit did not make things easier by always moving to keep brush between himself and me.

Here he is in a rare moment out of cover.



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.


Adventure Maps

Short Hike in Piedras Marcadas Canyon at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Albuquerque, New Mexico



El Morro – Inscription Rock

A very large sandstone cliff rising from the desert floor, El Morro was well-known by travelers in years past for the unique pool of water at its base. The pool is not fed by a spring, but by runoff from rains at the top of the cliff. It reminds me of the water harvesting techniques practiced by the Nabateans at Petra, except this is natural. The size of the pool varies with rainfall but it never runs dry. Morro was a stop for travelers from ancient times until the railroad passed it by.

It seems that people from all eras cannot resist the urge to write their names on large, flat, vertical expanses. Morro rock provides an ideal canvas for people to say “I was here”. The sandstone is easy to carve, and everyone from ancestral Puebloans to Spanish conquistadores to children traveling with wagon trains added their graffiti to the rock. I saw petroglyphs, spanish inscriptions, and english carvings, It all basically says “I was here on this date”.

Puebloans started the tradition of inscriptions on the rock

First Spanish inscription by Don Juan de Oñate dated on April 16, 1605

An Anglo inscription on El Morro

El Malpais

In ancient times, volcanoes covered this area with lava. On the west of the road, rivers of smooth pahoehoe lava and fields of jagged a’a lava created a rocky, black landscape that nevertheless managed to support plant life. On the east, tall, tan sandstone cliffs, interestingly eroded by the elements, reached for the sky. At The Narrows, the lava almost reached the base of the bluffs.

At another spot, an isolated group of sandstone bluffs overlooked fields of lava below. A spur off the main road led to the top of the cliff, where bands of younger people were enjoying the thrill of getting as close to the edge as they felt safe. That was closer than Dad and I wanted to be.

Tent Rocks National Monument

After last week’s boring volcanoes, it was time to find an adventure among some spectacular scenery. The hoodoos at Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument provided awesome eye candy.  I had been there years earlier, and this visit was even better than I remembered.

The Monument is surrounded by private land, which is traversed by the access road. On the drive one can see signs of currently active ranches, as well as older, non-active ones.

Federal “stimulus” money had paid for repaving of the road into the monument.  This led to an increase in the number of visitors.  The parking lot at the trailhead was full, leading to a 20 minute delay before we were allowed to enter the park.  Entrance fee is $5 per vehicle.

While waiting for the gate to open, I talked with the couple driving this truck camper. They had traveled all the way from New York.

There are two well-groomed trails.  A man-made cave is the attraction on the Cave Loop, while the Canyon Trail goes through a gorgeous 1000-yard slot canyon on its way to the summit.

At the entrance to the trails is a sculpture of the tent rocks. Perhaps the real ones are not artistic enough.

There’s not much I can say about this adventure that can’t be better expressed by a photograph, so I’ll post a representative sample of photos taken along the way, without much commentary.  Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Kasha Katuwe means White Cliffs in the Keresan language of Cochiti Pueblo. The Tent Rocks are erosional features carved by water from soft volcanic deposits. The volcanic ash gives the rock its white color.


Each "tent rock" is capped by a boulder that protects the softer volcanic ash below from eroding. Should a tent rock lose its boulder, it will erode down to nothing.

The Canyon Trail takes one through a long slot canyon and then up to the top of the formation.

This shorter tent rock shows the boulder that protects the lower part from eroding.

The slot canyon is so narrow that a camera cannot capture the feeling one gets looking at the towering cliffs. I took several photos and stitched them into a panorama to give a simulated "fish eye lens" view of the canyon wall.


Looking up an eroded chimney in the wall of the slot canyon.

On the other side of the slot canyon, the trail takes a steep upward path.

The top of the formation is a good place for meditation.

The hoodoos look just as amazing from above as from below.

The return requires one to duck under this boulder to re-enter the slot canyon.

Though we did not see any snakes, the management saw fit to warn us of their presence on the Cave Loop Trail.

The cave was dug out by Native Americans from the soft volcanic tuff, probably using sticks.


Adventure Maps


Tent Rocks National Monument

EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking in New Mexico

You can see the gradual ascent through the slot canyon, then a steeper climb to the summit. The Cave Loop Trail is the little rise on the way back.

Petroglyph Volcanoes

Vulcan is the largest volcano. Cinder (seen to the left) has been reduced by mining to a hole in the ground.

The Volcanoes are a prominent part of the Albuquerque landscape. They are very visible on the Western horizon. Interestingly, I had never been there. It was time to remedy the situation.

Scoria is rock fragments that contain numerous gas bubbles frozen into place as magma exploded into the air and then cooled quickly.

Splatter is formed when the magma contains enough gas to prevent a lava flow, but not enough to shatter it into small fragments. Because splatter is not fully solid when it lands, the individual deposits are very iregular in shape and weld together as they cool.

Albuquerque lies in the Rio Grande Rift Valley that extends from Chihuahua, Mexico to Leadville, CO.  A rift valley is caused by the earth’s crust shifting and thinning.  This thinning provides an opening for magma from the mantle to rise to the surface, and that is what happened here.  A fissure opened and magma flowed onto the surface, hardening into the black basalt rocks that are ubiquitous on the West Mesa.  Eventually the fissure closed, except for five cracks that became fissure volcanoes, the object of today’s adventure.

From the top of Vulcan, one can see JA, Black, and the pit that used to be Cinder.

The five volcanoes (south to north) are JA, Black, Cinder, Vulcan, and Bond.  The plan was to visit them all on a 6.3 mile hike.  However, we cut the hike short because the parking lot gate closes at 5:00 and we weren’t sure to be back in time, and also, to non-geologists, the hike just wasn’t that interesting.

Four Blackhaw and three Chinook holecopters at Double Eagle Airport.

Surprisingly, the parking area was full.  There seemed to be an organized activity taking place; I later found out that ranger-led tours of the volcanoes are regularly held.

Cinder Volcano has been mined until it is just a hole in the ground.  Black Volcano was much more impressive in the past, before mining reduced its size.

From the top of Vulcan, we watched the Blackhawks returning to their base at Kirtland.

The views from the top of the volcanoes were impressive.  We could see completely across the Rio Grande valley to the Sandias in the east.  Double Eagle airport lies just to the north, and we could clearly see aircraft operating, including four Blackhawks and three Chinooks from Kirtland Air Force Base.  The Chinooks flew in as we were driving up to the parking area, and the Blackhawks departed toward the end of our hike.

View of JA Volcano from the trailhead

Adventure Maps

Petroglyph National Monument: Volcanoes

JA Volcano on the left; Black Volcano in the center; Vulcan Volcano on the right.