Petroglyphs – they exist all around the American desert – marks left by the native civilizations hundreds of years ago. Just outside of Albuquerque rests a park, a monument, collecting a large collection of them – making them available for the public.
Starting off in the visitor's centre Katherine and I were told that parking at the trail head would cost one dollar, unless we had a parks pass. As we would need this park pass in the coming weeks and month, we decided to pick it up now. Eighty dollars now, for one dollar saved.
The pass would allow us into all the national parks without having to pay their entrance fees. Grand Canyon Park alone runs a smooth twenty five dollars – and then there's Mesa Verda where we'll be staying tonight which is fifteen to get into. And that's just two of the three parks we'll be staying in.
Once we bought the pass it seemed almost a shame that we didn't plan our entire trip around the various parks and monuments that we could now access free of charge. There is great value within this pass, unfortunately our plans were set in motion some time ago. And, seeing all the parks would have kept us away from the cities – that wouldn't have been good either. Balance is required, and balance is what we've created.
With our one dollar saved we drove two miles to the site, where there was no ranger on guard to take our money – honour system again. I could say that we saved nothing because of this new revelation, but we would have paid anyway – perhaps out of fear that they would somehow know, rather than out of a sense of altruistic good. Nevertheless, we would have paid. And isn't that the important part? But no. We did not need to, for we had: THE PASS!
Now up up up the rocks, to view the markings.
There is a problem with leaving these etchings in the rocks available for the public. Within a few steps it became obvious. Looking quite like the others, a smiley face and a frowny face existed side by side. I find it hard to believe that such images could have become so iconic hundreds of years before the yellow, “Don't Worry, Be Happy,” movement took the world by storm. Graffiti obscures the truth in the art, and the images.
It's possible that a modern day native came and did it – in which case is it of any more or less value than the others? I'm not sure. Pressing on, the graffiti fell behind, and we were presented with the far more stylized men and women, snakes, birds – so many road runners, like the one we'd seen crossing our path not long before. There was the endless spiral, and other shapes far too abstract to be sure of their meaning.
For forty minutes we climbed to the top of the hill, looking down, being allowed views of the surrounding area: To one side, empty nothingness, the other? Suburbs. The juxtaposition was staggering.
Three trails exist, and we walked them all, though with some fear on the shortest of the three – the rumour was going around that a rattle snake had been spotted there. Part of me wanted to see the snake, another wanted it to not be there so as I would not die a terrible death, which is what I've been led to believe will happen if I come across said creature. There was no snake. Only more petroglyphs.
Soon we were leaving Albuquerque behind us, travelling north on the turquoise trail. This road travels through small villages, now mostly turned to tourism – shops selling little trinkets, and restaurants charging far too much for far too little.
Still, the drive was nice, and outside the villages, it was beautiful. Katherine was finally being given a chance to experience the New Mexican roads for all that they were worth. And, as said many times before, that is an experience beyond compare.
The road leads up to Santa Fe, which we had all plans to visit – until they were abandoned to save thirty minutes. It wasn't known at the time if we would really need those thirty minutes, but for them at a national park, I would trade another city sighting. Instead we stopped at one of the little tourist towns looking for souvenirs. In one building marked, Diner, with a cardboard sign reading, “This is not a restaurant,” in the window we discovered how terrible the souvenirs were. Cheap t-shirts, bandannas, paper weights... all strewn around on table tops, on bar tops – this was once a diner, and seeing it used this way was just sad. If you have a diner and you want to make it a store, don't just put stuff on tables, use the uniqueness of the shop to your advantage. But no – there was nothing clever here. And soon we were once more on our way.
Along the flat and dusty, under the expansive blue we bounced, hitting a pot hole causing the whole car to jerk, and our fearless driver to fear – just a little. I assured her it would be fine, and it was, but in the moment – heads still rattling – it was easy to understand why such trepidations might exist.
Just outside of New Mexico, fresh into Colorado, we passed a large plateau on the horizon; some of the land was beginning to come together into something previously unseen.
Travelling down the highway we would soon be turning into Mesa Verda national park, the road leading us up through the twisty hills, to a camp ground which we would be calling home for the next two nights.
We were losing light, and without it there would not be much to see. We grabbed our plot, were warned about bears – yay – and then got to work putting the tent up. The terribly annoying tent which I know there must be an easier way to set up, but could not figure out.
In a stroke of accident, one pole coming loose and needing to be put in again, I think the answer came to me. Put in two cross bars, then the third pole comes later. It's hard to know for sure if this is the answer, and without taking the whole thing down – not going to happen – there was no way to test it just yet.
Our tent was up. We headed to the amphitheater where a ranger was giving a talk on the different cultures in the area, leading back to the Ancient peoples who created the monuments here, to the modern day expanse. Their cultures each developing their own sense of style with pottery.
Tickets had been purchased for three dollars a piece to tour these sites built into the cliff walls. Cliff Dwellings, Katherine had told me, when she led us to this park. Apparently they're villages in the cliffs. I didn't know what to expect, and refused to look at any pictures, preferring to see them free of expectations. All that would come soon enough.
Now it was time to sleep. As I lay my mat down, I felt no less than three rocks jabbing through me. What a night it was going to be!