on November 20, 2006
When Albuquerque comes up in conversation, what usually follows is talk of quirky art, Tex-Mex, and Route 66, and all its strange attractions. But not everything about Albuquerque is kitsch and sopapillas. The city is nestled between Sandia Peak - a mountain accessible by cable car - and the West Mesa, where you'll find 12,000 years' worth of human history and a stunning landscape. Though there are plenty of reasons that Albuquerque deserves more recognition than it gets, it's at the mesa where you'll realize that all that talk about Albuquerque as a distant second to Santa Fe needs to end.Albuquerque's Petroglyph National Monument is 7,236 acres of volcanic basalt that creeps up the West Mesa's side. Between the brightly colored shrubbery and occasional jackrabbit or hawk (and watch out for the millipedes) are more than 25,000 images - or petroglyphs - etched into the rocks. The images come from myriad sources, including the Anasazi and Pueblo tribes, Spanish settlers, and Conquistadors. Together, they form some of the most complex Rio Grande imagery in all of the Southwest. Think kachina masks - which are generally made of painted wood and used in Hopi and Pueblo rituals - and precursors to the modern Kokopelli, a prehistoric deity frequently depicted in rock art. Although the messages aren't always easy to decipher, the images throughout the escarpment depict everything from mythical animals to hunting scenes, farming imagery, and even branding. Beyond the clever guessing games you can play with the images on the rocks - we swear there are robots in the mix that Kraftwerk must have cribbed - be sure to troop all the way to the top of the mesa to catch a 17-mile wide view of the open sky, Sandia Peak, and Albuquerque. Also head to one of the five volcano cones in the park and their archaeological digs. Remember to tread these grounds with the utmost respect - it's still considered sacred land to members of the Pueblo tribes. Any profane thoughts that come to mind while playing the guessing game, though, can be our little secret.
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