Recent History of Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division.

Why does the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division co-manage Petroglyph National Monument with the National Park Service? This federal-local government arrangement is almost unique in the 417 unit National Park Service. The answers are rooted, as they often are, in history, community, and politics.

Albuquerque's citizens have enjoyed their wide open spaces for many years. A wonderful 1893 photograph of a man and his infant daughter shows a horse carriage in the background at the Mesa Prieta area of the Monument. Some activities weren't so pastoral—N.M. Volcano “Erupts” But Fools No One—a 1950 newspaper headline declared. Nobody was fooled, apparently, because the same prank—piling tires on the side of a volcano and setting them on fire to simulate an eruption—had been tried in 1947 with much greater success (even causing a panic in the city). For years students from nearby St Joseph would paint a "J" on Vulcan Volcano, when the light is right it can still be seen.

Response to development pressure played a vital role in saving land that would one day become Petroglyph Monument. A proposal in the late 1960s to carve the mesa top and volcanoes into 5-acre ‘ranchettes’ spurred the activism of a group called Save the Volcanoes. Under the leadership of Ruth Eisenberg, nicknamed the “Volcano Lady,” the City put up millions of dollars, matched with federal Land and Water Conservation Funds, to buy and protect the volcanoes and surrounding mesa land. At the same time, some of the first City ‘regional parks’ were purchased (for as little as $2.50 acre) from the Bureau of Land Management through the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. A key example was Boca Negra Park, a 1,527 acre tract containing portions of Rinconada Canyon and the mesa top.

In 1972, a major new subdivision called Volcano Cliffs was required to set aside some land for a neighborhood park as part of the City’s park dedication ordinance. D.W. Falls dedicated 74 acres to the city. It consisted of steep slopes and many so-called ‘rock carvings.’ Once acquired, the city again sought Federal Land and Water Conservation Funds funneled through the State of New Mexico, to help construct trails, a picnic area and restroom. Indian Petroglyph State Park (now the Boca Negra Unit) was opened a year later. Today 85% of the monuments visitors enjoy the resources at Boca Negra Canyon. This area continues to be staffed, owned, and managed by the City of Albuquerque even though it is part of Petroglyph National Monument.

Another major success story resulted in saving the Piedras Marcadas pueblo. This ancient adobe village, comprising an estimated 1,000+ rooms occupied between AD 1300 and the mid-1500s, is one of the largest remaining and most intact pueblos in the middle Rio Grande valley. Plans for a condominium complex on top of the pueblo raised great concern by preservationists, and within a year the site was bought for open space. Due to the direct connection between the village's residents and the rich concentrations of petroglyphs nearby, the pueblo was included in the monument's boundaries. Surrounded by new residential development, the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division also acquired lands nearby for a visitor center and educational facility and to help protect this significant cultural resource.

Researchers also played an important role in the creation of the monument. In the late 1960s the Albuquerque Archaeological Society, led by Colonel Jim Bain, recorded many petroglyphs in the Piedras Marcadas Canyon area. In fact, Piedras Marcadas Canyon was their first recommendation for a park site but the deal did not materialize. In the mid-1980s concerned citizens from the local Open Space Task Force helped commission a study with state funds that documented over 15,000 petroglyphs on the edge of the West Mesa. These findings led to listing the area on the National Register of Historic Places as the Las Imágenes National Register District in 1986. Immediately thereafter, the Friends of the Albuquerque Petroglyphs was formed by Ike Eastvold, whose tireless work with numerous local groups forged the way for establishing the National Monument on June 27, 1990. Other volunteers of all ages helped clean up, fence and otherwise support the lands within the monument boundary. Today, vigilant neighbors continue to help protect the resources by picking up trash, reporting suspicious activity and serving as trail watch volunteers.

The Petroglyph National Monument enabling legislation recognized both the imminent threats to the petroglyphs as well as the key role of citizens and the City of Albuquerque. Without state and local government ownership of more than 3,500 acres—over 1/2 of the Monument—would not have happened so quickly, if at all. Due to the role of the City's Open Space Division in acquiring land and managing it for several decades, Congress envisioned a cooperative partnership with the National Park Service well into the future.

Today land acquisition is almost complete. The City of Albuquerque and the National Park Service cooperatively manage the lands within the monument boundaries consistant with a Memorandum of Understanding. The National Park Service conducts interpretive and educational programs and natural and cultural research, patrols all monument lands, operates the Las Imágenes Visitor Center (an old adobe home built in 1953 and purchased from Dr. Sophie Aberle) and constructs and maintains facilities in the Atrisco Unit. The City of Albuquerque manages both the Boca Negra Unit (in which the State of New Mexico acquired 140 acres of land) and Piedras Marcadas Units and also conducts interpretive programs and law enforcement patrols. The City has a visitor center adjacent to the Piedras Marcadas Pueblo.

When the monument was established in 1990, half of the 7239 acres were already in public ownership. Since then, Federal, state and city governments have spent $60 million on land acquisition. The State of New Mexico transferred 640 acres to the Federal Government in 2001. In addition, the City owns several thousand acres of Major Public Open Space lands immediately adjacent to the monument. These lands, while not within the monument boundary, are maintained in their natural state for recreational use and as an open space preserve. These lands are part of Albuquerque’s 20,000 acres of designated and highly celebrated Major Public Open Space.

Located in the fastest growing area of Albuquerque, the monument is surrounded on the east and north by residential development. Expansive plans for additional residential development to the south have been approved. Once on the very edge of the city, residential lots adjacent to Petroglyph National Monument now command higher prices, with views being protected in perpetuity. Monument neighbors appreciate having a National Park in their own backyard. The City enforces design guidelines for properties adjacent to the volcanic escarpment (height of structures, roof and building color, reflective surfaces and other considerations). Three new elementary schools are within walking distance of the monument and Chamisa Elementary’s school yard even opens directly into the monument, their own outdoor classroom.

What does the near future look like? The City of Albuquerque has plans to expand the Double Eagle II General Aviation Airport to the west by constructing new runways. New mesa top development is being planned and thousands of acres of land nestles next to the volcanic escarpment is slated for over 18,000 new homes. Issues of urban encroachment, intense and sometimes conflicting recreational use, city proposed road construction (a four lane Unser Boulevard through the Boca Negra Unit and a 4-6 lane Paseo Del Norte across the escarpment on 8.5 acres removed from the monument boundary in 1997), aircraft over flights and storm water runoff continue to provide challenges to the resources and impacts to the quality of the visitor experience. Although considered an “urban park” by many the same rules and regulations generally applicable to all units of the National Park System apply.

So when you see both the city Open Space and National Park Service logos you will understand the long standing relationship of this complex, dynamic and evolving national treasure.

Last updated: January 31, 2018

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