Petroglyphs National Monument, New Mexico

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Over the summer Blue Eyes and I spent a long weekend exploring New Mexico, I did a lot of research on what adventures we could pursue while we were there and when I came across Petroglyphs National Monument I 100% knew we would be stopping by. This preserved area of volcanic rock has tens of thousands of glyphs scratched into the black stones. Literally, they are EVERYWHERE.

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We wandered around on a few short trails, gawking at the ancient art, trying to get some photos that would reflect how incredible these images were while battling a super hot sun and crazy reflections on the stone.

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It was a super hot day, with zero shade, and a lot of black rock soaking up (and radiating) extra heat, so we didn’t stay long or attempt some of the longer trails, but I am still baffled at how MANY pieces of art were just, you know, laying around on the ground.

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Of course, people tend to ruins stuff like this, and there were plenty of graffitied pieces, “So-and-So Was Here” crap and “Cory + Rhonda, 2014” stuff, which is ridiculously unfortunate, why do people have to do that!? Anyway, if you’re ever in Albuquerque, I highly recommend giving yourself 45 minutes (or, you know, 4 hours, if it’s not hella hot and sunny) to check out these ancient drawings.


Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, New Mexico

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It’s not really a huge surprise that I kind of love the weird: weird architecture, weird geology, weird non-fiction topics to obsess about. When I read about the Tent Rocks in New Mexico I knew we would be stopping to explore, and this was before I even knew what they looked like!

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Creamy, layered sandstone, slot canyons, pointy tents (or mirage-like ice cream cones, depending on how hot it is and how long you’ve been hiking), with a path through the whole thing and up to the top of the mesa for a better view.

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Mr. Blue Eyes and I lathered up in sunscreen (it was 90-something degrees…not the best day for hiking!), grabbed more water, and started hiking. At first, the trail was super flat and meandering, we passed old people and babies who had stopped to enjoy the shade or go exploring.

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We wandered through a couple of amazing slot canyons, I stood at one end, camera poised, waiting for all tourists to get out of my shot. I love slot canyons, these were fairly narrow, but completely dry. (However, had there been rain they certainly would have been dicey!)

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We kept wandering….and then we hit the “steep” part. There was very little shade and I was a sweaty mess, but–nerd that I am–there were MORE TENT ROCKS TO SEE! So we kept going, zig-zagging up the cliff, scrambling at places, to get to the top of the mesa and look down into the “campground” of tents we’d just wandered through.

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I would love to visit in the early morning or on a cool spring evening, I bet the sunrise/sunset on those rocks is just stunning. As it was, I was impressed by the sandstone formations, all the layers, and the slot canyons. Yay, nature!

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Tsé Bit'a'í, or, Shiprock, New Mexico

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I have made the drive from Salt Lake City to Phoenix and back more times than I can count. There are only a few ways you can go: the shortest distance, the shortest time, and the one with the least chance of bad weather in high mountain passes. On my drive back to Arizona a few weeks ago I decided I wanted to take a little different route because I really wanted to see the hardened and weathered insides of a volcano so ancient that it’s insides are now on the outside, the only remnants left of what was once an angry, molten-lava mountain.

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Called Tsé Bit’a’í by the Navajo, meaning “Rock with Wings” this formation is the giant bird that brought the Navajo safely to northwestern New Mexico. When white frontiersmen arrived they thought it looked like a clipper ship and renamed it (and everything else). Located on tribal lands and still held sacred by the Navajo you can walk around it, but you cannot climb it.

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Scientifically, this is the core of an ancient volcano with enormous fins of volcanic rock, up to 150 feet tall, radiating out in three directions. There are very few signs to lead you to the bumpy dirt road that will take you closer to the formation. Shiprock is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, the closest other landmark is Four Corners National Monument, which if you’ve ever visited is miles and miles from anything else. I did stop at Four Corners on my drive, it was a not-really-quick detour on my way to see this giant rock. Frankly, Tsé Bit’a’í is much more interesting without any tourist trap things to hijack your experience. Literally: no signs, no historical marker with the Navajo legend, nothing. There was one spray-painted sign half-propped up along main highway, but that was it.

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That big wall on the left is the most prominent fin stretching for several miles. I didn’t climb the wall itself (hello, respect), but I did walk up a little trail to the base to see what I could see. The drop off on the other side was considerably steeper than the slope on my side, I’m not afraid of heights, but it did make me gulp a bit. The scale of the wall is massive, I can only imagine what it would be like to stand at the base of Shiprock and try and see the top.

A note: I just found out there is a similar formation in north-eastern Arizona, the remains of an ancient volcano, complete with radiating walls of volcanic rock, about 1500 feet high. On my next trek through this part of the country I’ll probably have to stop and check it out too. I certainly have a thing for the leftovers of ancient volcanoes. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is another example of an eroded volcanic plug, totally loved that as well.

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I am still completely haunted and mesmerized by this formation, I don’t entirely know why. As a white girl from Utah I have ZERO claim on it, not culturally, or geographically, or anything else. But I love it, all the same. I suppose, in some ways this rocky monolith reminds me of the rocky mountains that hold my secrets, the scariest and sweetest secrets that you whisper to the wind knowing she will take your words up to the highest peaks, and carefully hide them among the shadows and the deep places, safe from prying eyes and people digging around for answers. I honestly think part of my heart is formed from the peaks and caves and cirque’s of the highest, rocky mountains, part of me always feels safer with them soaring above me.

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