CLOUD AND ROCKS
This week I would like to return to the landscapes of New Mexico, so alien to our environment in Portland. They are even drier and higher than the High Desert of Eastern Oregon, and in some sense even more uniform. But there are a few spectacular exceptions to the overall expanse of sagebrush. One of these is a series of bluffs to the west of Albuquerque that comprise Petroglyph National Monument. Driving very slowly, you are only twenty minutes from Downtown, yet a world away. The seventeen-mile long mesa has only a few trails that cross the expanse of the park. Looking at the map, there is not much else until you get to Phoenix, four hundred miles and a good six hours to the West.
ROCKS AND SAGEBRUSH : FINAL VERSION
Petroglyph National Monument is a very interesting Park, with four trails through a rocky landscape that will get you reasonably close to hundreds of Petroglyphs made by Native Americans, Spanish settlers, and Americans after the Mexican War. While at first I feared that we would actually have to hike up the bluff, the sandy trails just go in a few miles into near wilderness at the base of the bluffs. It soon became apparent that access was prohibited beyond the trail not to "protect the environment" but to protect the existing petroglyphs and to ensure they would not be surrounded by modern graffiti. The desert environment consisted of blue sky, clouds, a hint of the city in the distance, and a large expanse of boulders on the Northern hillsides.
A SANDY DEPRESSION SOUTH OF THE TRAIL : FINAL VERSION
The rocks on the surface seemed to be just the uppermost layer of an entire hillside of boulders. The Southern edge of the Monument was another series of bluffs with a sandy depression just beyond the trail. While you only lost the sounds of the interstate after walking in about a mile, Albuquerque was always still apparent to the East. What was shocking to me was how light the city seemed to rest in the dessert environment. The entire city was really just a smudge between these Western bluffs and Sandia Peak just to the East of town. Portland seen from Mt. Tabor seemed like Chicago in comparison.
ALBUQUERQUE'S LACK OF IMPACT ON ITS ENVIRONMENT : FINAL VERSION
SANDIA PEAK ON THE EASTERN EDGE OF THE CITY, A HALF HOUR OR SO FROM THE WEST SIDE : FINAL COLOR AND B&W VERSIONS
As we walked the trail it soon became obvious that we better enjoy the landscape, since the petroglyphs were few and far between. At first we didn't see any at all, and Fran began to pine for some gauche arrows on the hillside. We couldn't even find them even when the trail side markers insisted that they were staring us in the face. We felt pretty lame until we came upon others on the trail who were finding even less "success" than we were. This wasn't as easy as the park rangers had advertised back at the Visitors Center. I started to just pay attention to "interesting " boulders, almost abandoning any effort to find any ancient graffiti.
AN "INTERESTING ROCK" : FINAL VERSION
A NICE CRACK, BUT NO PETROGLYPHS : FINAL VERSION
But as we walked on, we began to realize that we had to "be one with the ancient artists." We had passed the first test in looking for interesting rocks, since the artists wanted to find a canvas that would stand out on a hillside of boulders. The second test became the quest for the shady side of the boulders, since the carved signs were lighter than the rocks and stood out in the shade. Finally I decided to focus on rocks that afforded both easy access and comfortable places to draw, since these were obviously not quick sketches. Once we began to think like someone who would actually make a sign on a hillside of boulders we began to actually see some, and delightfully point them out to fellow tourists.
FINALLY SOME ART! : FINAL VERSION
A canvas in the shade. I could almost imagine carving while sitting on the ground next to the rock.
MYSTERIOUS GRAPHICS : FINAL VERSION
Graphics that appealed to me without having any idea of what they might actually represent.
B&W VERSION ADDS SOME TEXTURE, LOSES SOME CONTRAST
THE CONQUISTADORS HAVE ARRIVED!
Spanish settlers contributed some Christian imagery.
SNAKE ON A ROCK : FINAL VERSION
My personal favorite, a graphic snake and a cartoon-like deer sharing a rock face.
A HORIZON OF BOULDERS : FINAL VERSION
We ended up having a nice hike once we lowered our expectations, kind of like enjoying a round of golf despite your appalling score. I would recommend going in the late afternoon to get most of the canvases we found in the shade. And for heaven's sake don't try this hike on a hot Summer day. This is a very unforgiving environment indeed. We hiked only a couple of miles or so, but were so tired we immediately adjourned for an "early-bird special" dinner.