La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs

Round Trip Distance: 0.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 6147 - 6247 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Time: 1 hr. 30 mins.
Trailhead: La Cieneguilla
Fee: none
Attractions: Petroglyphs

The La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs (pronounced sienna-GEE-ya; English: small swamp) are located off of Paseo Real, just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico in the vicinity of La Cienega. Hundreds of petroglyphs, attributed mostly to the Keresan speaking puebloan people that lived in the area between the 13th and 17th centuries, can be found above the valley along the basalt cliffs.

From Santa Fe, travel south on I-25 and take exit 276. Turn right onto the Santa Fe Relief Route, NM-599, for 2.6 miles and take a left onto Paseo Real, NM-56. After about 3.4 miles there will be a small parking area on the right with a BLM sign for the La Cieneguilla Petroglyph Site.

The trail is easy to follow as it leaves the parking area and heads toward a nearby hill. The hill that we are headed to is about a half mile from the trailhead and just to the left of the one in this photo.

About 500 feet from the trailhead there is an information kiosk that includes some facts about 'El Camino Real', the 'Royal Road', that passed through here enroute from Mexico City to Santa Fe.

At the kiosk the trail turns left and travels along a fence.

After crossing a small arroyo the trail that had been well marked up to that point spreads out and seemingly takes multiple routes up the talus hillside.

The goal is to get close up to the face of the cliff just below the rim where it seems petroglyphs can be found upon most every available surface. Navigating around the boulders along the base of  the cliff can be very awkward in places.

We threw this photo in to show the contrast between the images in the shadows and those that are in full sunlight. The best time to take pictures is when the light is more diffused such as in the morning or evening or even on a cloudy day. Of course, during the warmer months those are the same times that rattlesnakes are more likely to be moving about so keep that in mind.

Many of the images have held up quite well over the centuries that they have graced the basalt upon which they were created.

The La Cieneguilla site is known for its numerous kokopelli and bird figures. Kokopelli is often called a 'humped back flute player' but it is more likely that he was a trader and was carrying a knapsack on his back. One might also wonder, for obvious reasons, whether he may have accepted sexual favors at times in exchange for his wares.

On the day that we took the photos for this post we continued down the cliff until the trail seemed to end and then worked our way back down to the road from that point. It probably would have been a lot easier to simply turn around and retrace our original route.

One thing that we did notice on the route that we took was that even some of the smaller boulders on the hillside below the cliffs were also decorated with petroglyphs.

While we were hiking along the fence we could see even more petroglyphs using our binoculars. Even though there weren't any 'No Trespassing' signs on the fence it was unclear whether both hills were on BLM land or not. Since we could hear someone target shooting somewhere up on top of the mesa we decided not to cross the fence. We are sure that we missed quite a few petroglyphs on this visit but since the La Cieneguilla Petroglyph site is so easy to access we are sure to return for another visit. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.