Today, Petroglyph Monument preserves more than 20,000 sacred images cut into the black stone. Some are easily recognizable images of animals, birds, snakes, and people. Some are geometric figures: spirals, circles, rectangles, stars, and crosses. Others are unidentifiable biomorphic hybrids, deities, and mysterious figures drawn from the artists' vision-quests into the spirit world. Some may be 2000 years old, but archeologists think that most were made between 400 and 700 years ago. Spanish explorers and settlers carved their marks into the rocks as well.
Whatever their original meanings may have been for their makers, these thousands of examples of rock art offer precious, beautiful, baffling, and at times amusing glimpses into our shared past.
For a fascinating account of an individual's efforts to protect the rock art at Mesa Prieta, see Katherine Wells's book Life on the Rocks: One Woman's Adventures in Petroglyph Preservation (UNM Press, 2009). Our friend Jan Stone is an active volunteer in this project.