Vásquez, the new National Park Service superintendent at the Petroglyph National Monument on Albuquerque’s West Side, was on a walking tour last week of a section of the monument known as the northern geological window. His companion and guide was Ike Eastvold, a longtime advocate for and defender of the monument and the thousands of samples of ancient Pueblo Indian rock art found there.
As the two entered Boca Negra Arroyo, they came upon a sight that was anything but the sacred, peaceful and wild landscape they were expecting.
“We were walking through the canyon and came across debris, motorcycle tracks and graffiti,” said Vásquez, who took over as monument superintendent in December. “I was troubled, disappointed.”
The monument is managed jointly by the National Park Service and the city of Albuquerque. The trashed section Vásquez and Eastvold happened upon is owned and managed by the city.
Eastvold said fencing was down here, trash and shotgun shells littered the ground, a dozen, huge semi-trailer tires were dumped in the canyon, the remnants of campfires were evident, and a large, archaeologically sensitive dry cave had been marred by graffiti spray-painted in gold.
“It was like a punch to the gut,” Eastvold said. “Who knows what was going on there. But people have told me it was a teenage party place.”
No one can say how long the trash and graffiti have been there. Eastvold said he had not been to the area for about three years before last week’s discovery.
Vásquez said the graffiti may be as fresh as several weeks, but Eastvold notes that since it is in a cave protected from the elements, it is difficult to be sure.
“It’s just pure guess,” Vásquez said.
Eastvold puts some of the blame on the fact that the right of way for the controversial Paseo del Norte extension, which punched through monument grounds in 2007, was never fenced off. That right of way is just a half mile or so north of the monument’s northern geological window.
“A network of dirt roads and tracks exists between the two,” Eastvold said. “This intervening area experiences a wide variety of trespass activities.”
Even though the monument boundaries are fenced off, Eastvold said the fence is easily breached. And he said city of Albuquerque Open Space Division has not been sufficiently funded to pay for patrols of the area.
Open Space crews did restore the sections of downed fence and start removing litter and debris on Monday.
Matt Schmader, Open Space superintendent, did not return Journal calls on Tuesday.
But Vásquez said the park service and the city will work together to remove the graffiti as quickly as possible.
“We have to be careful and sensitive so we don’t damage the rocks and create our own markings,” he said. “We have a variety of methods to try, ranging from high-pressure water, to a pumice removal method to a new product, an environmentally friendly solvent.
“In the very near future, we’ll have it looking better.”
Journal staff writer Nicole Perez contributed to this report.