Great Hikes: La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs, Santa Fe, NM
The Quick and Dirty
DIFFICULTY: easy to moderate
TYPE: out and back
LENGTH: 1 mile
TIME: 30 minutes, more to view the petroglyphs
ELEVATION GAIN: easy
DOG FRIENDLY: Yes, leash required.
La Cienequilla Petroglyphs
To save you the googling time, a petroglyph is a symbol carved into rock. Unlike many ancient cultures, the peoples that made the petroglyphs did not have an abundance of plant life in which to make dyes for painting. They had to resort to scratching their art into the surrounding rocks.
They were made by Puebloan people between the 13th and 17th centuries. Those folks now live further south in what is now the Cochiti and Domingo Pueblos. While they have moved to new digs, their art has endured. The petroglyphs consist of hundred of carvings, ranging from the popular local symbol of a hunchbacked flute player, to birds and what some even believe is an alien. Did they have visitors? Strange beings continue to be seen among the rocks, but they are mostly tourists from back east.
Finding the petroglyph trailhead is pretty straightforward. At the intersection of NM 599 (the Santa Fe bypass) and Airport Road, head west. Or you could set your GPS or Google Maps to take you to the Santa Fe Airport. Once you reach the airport entrance, just keep driving.
Follow the road for 3.3 miles. On the right side of the road you will see a small brown sign signifying that you have reached the parking lot trailhead. This is where you being your hike:
CAUTION: Vehicle break-ins have occurred. Secure your vehicle and valuables.
CAUTION: There are no water sources at the trailhead or along the trail.
CAUTION: There are no restrooms at the trailhead. Go before you go.
CAUTION: During the warmer months, rattlesnakes are a common sight. For this reason it is recommend that you only take your leashed dog in the winter months.
For the majority of the hike you will traverse a flat trail. There are arrows on low wooden posts pointing you in the right direction. You will reach a point where you are directed to pass through a gap in the adjacent fence and begin heading up the hill. This is the most challenging portion of the hike. While the uphill portion is short, it is very rocky. Good hiking shoes are recommend, and a set of trekking poles are strongly recommended. If you trip or lose your balance and fall, it is not going to be pretty.
As you continue uphill, the path is somewhat difficult to find as it is interspersed in a dense rock field. There are actually several routes up to the petroglyphs. Choose the path easiest for you. It is during this portion of the hike you need to keep a sharp lookout where you step. Rattlesnakes inhabit the area and are a common sight. Avoid them and they will not bother you.
At the end of the uphill trail, you will reach a small and rocky bluff/cliff. It is on this cliff face that most of the petroglyphs were drawn. The bulk of the more interesting carvings are to your left along the path as the base of the cliff. You can also go right and see some of the same. If you have time, do both. It is the petroglyph viewing that can turn this 30 minute hike into a 2 hour historical tour if you so desire. Return the same route you came.
Get Out of Town
Santa Fe is a wonderful city to visit. But it can also be pricey, crowded and full of artists hawking their latest modern creation. A trip to the petroglyphs is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown Santa Fe. It is close but remote, offers an entirely different type of art, and it is free. Don't let the snakes scare you off, just be aware of where you step and you will be fine.
Turn Your Hike Into a Game
Taking youngsters on your hike? Turn your hike into a game of "find the petroglyph." See if you or your kids can find the three most famous petroglyphs:
1. The Hand
2. The Thunderbird
3. The Alien
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.