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Carving out a future — Petroglyph monument adapts to city growth

A petroglyph is pictured in Boca Negra Canyon on the Mesa Point Trail at Petroglyph National Monument. City officials say there are currently around 100,000 residents within a mile of the park. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The area that is the Petroglyph National Monument was once used as a dump and shooting range — with some of the ancient carvings marred by gunfire — before being designated an archeological historic district. Now, the monument, and those who guard it, face another hurdle: population growth.

“I think we’re managing it better than it used to be un-managed,” Dennis Vasquez, superintendent for Petroglyph National Monument, told a group of about 40 people Wednesday night. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Vasquez spoke at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, structuring his talk around the Roman god of transitions, Janus, who has two heads “one looking forward, one looking back” to discuss the past, present and future of the monument which sits on the volcanic basalt escarpment of Albuquerque’s West Side.

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“It’s very special to have a place like Petroglyph National Park right on the edge of a city,” he said, pointing out that it was once far outside Albuquerque but now “the city has caught up to it.”

The purpose of the monument, which was established in 1990, is to “protect and promote” the understanding of petroglyphs in context with the “cultural and natural features” of the city’s West Mesa, Vasquez said.

A mourning dove keeps warm as the sun heats the basalt on the escarpment of Petroglyph National Monument. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

A petroglyph is a carving, made on rock, to create an image.

There are more than 350 archeological sites spread out across 7,200 acres, with thousands of images carved by Native Americans and Spanish settlers between 400 and 700 years ago, according to the park’s website.

“This place holds profound cultural significance,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez used aerial images, over an 80-year period, to show the ever-encroaching houses, golf courses and other developments that have come with Albuquerque’s population growth.

“We’re surrounded by a very active, fast-growing, city,” Vasquez said. “I’ve worked in a lot of dark, quiet places, (but) this is an urban park.”

City officials said there are currently around 100,000 residents within one mile of the park, and project that number to double as more than a thousand homes are being added to the adjacent area along with schools and baseball fields.

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Vasquez said both the city and National Park Service own acreage of the park, describing the partnership as “hot and cold,” and the growth has brought both entities together to work on a visitor management plan during the fall for the future sake of the park.

“I think we’re in a ‘warm’ spell right now,” he said of the partnership. “Feeling pretty good about it.”

Images on volcanic rock as seen from a trail at Petroglyph National Monument. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The plan seeks to better manage the park and make it more efficient, by establishing trail standards, while continuing to monitor and maintain trails.

“We need to make some decisions on appropriate usage in this park,” he said, hoping to have a formalized plan within four years. “We’re still in the middle of it.”

There are currently at least 139 miles of trail, 49 access points and 636 trail segments, both maintained and unmaintained, Vasquez said. They’re hoping to cut down to 40 miles of trails, 30 access points and 59 trail segments.

The plan has many long-term objectives, including cutting down on “social trails,” which cause erosion and damage resources, increasing private access for traditional use by local tribes, and connecting the surrounding neighborhoods to park trails.

“We see ourselves as stewards of the American legacy,” he said. “We are a fortunate country to have these wonderful places that you all have enjoyed, that I’ve enjoyed, for a lifetime.”

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