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



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.