I'm sitting on top of (OK near the top ... I didn't make it all the way) an escarpment in the Boca Negra part of Petroglyph National MonumenT in Albuquerque absorbing the experience. The monument (which has many parts) protects more than 25,000 rock drawings found in these volcanic cliffs on the city's western edge.
To my left (and below) is an upscale adobe walled neighborhood. In front of me is the same. To my right is a crosshatch of roads. I hear the beep beep beep of a dump truck backing up and the machine-gun whacks of a jackhammer.
But but but. This shouldn't be.
I'm sitting on volcanic boulders more than 100,000 years old viewing rock carvings, some dating back 3,000 years (and, yes, some dating back more recently, as in graffiti).
This richly historic place feels more like a roadside attraction than a preservation of a people's way of life. The path up the mountain is partially paved. Not natural. Steps and handrails reduce the stretch of the climb.
Some of the rock carvings conveniently face the path. So which came first? The path or the rocks? Let me guess ...
The unnatural feel pushes us back down the rocks. We want to leave. Dissatisfied. Empty. And then we meet Mike (above), born in Long Island and IN LOVE with this place. He's a former park ranger here (he hopes to be rehired soon) and visits often. Like today.
He stops our exist with his fascinating tales of how this place came to be and how today blends with yesterday. He knows the little things that bring a park to life. Those rocks that face the path? They aredead, he said, because they were moved from the housing project across the street -- over the objections of the Pueblo people. The Pueblos believe the boulders protect and contain a part of the artist's spirit. The spirit dies if man moves the boulder. Man did. So those rocks are dead. Empty.
But because we meet Mike, we discover that most of the boulders in this park vibrate with life. With Mike, we climb more rocks and find serious etchings, such as the spiral that signified the path to the underworld, the warrior (hands face down) and the praying man (hands face up).
Thanks to Mike, we see a spaceman carved in the rock hundreds of years ago (you have to stand just so and look up) and graffiti left by "NH in 1987."
Mike points out where, in 2006, some lughead pushed a truck down the escarpment, dislodging one of the huge boulders. And those bones I see deep in the crevice? Mike knows (and this is sad) that just a few years ago a bobcat swiped an untethered domestic dog from a nearby neighborhood and dined on it here.
OK. I'll stop.
There's just so much to tell because Mike's enthusiasm for the petroglyphs and the Pueblos is infectious. We're no longer disillusioned.
Instead, we're sore: our necks from craning to see all we can see, our ankles from wobbling on the rocks and our knees from stopping our ankles from wobbling.
What a great day.