Mesa Prieta Petroglyphs – Velarde, New Mexico - Atlas Obscura

Mesa Prieta Petroglyphs

Velarde, New Mexico

A preserve with 75,000 ancient drawings remains the realm of public – not just scientific – exploration. 


Born of ancient lava flows dating back to sometime around 3.3 million years ago, Mesa Prieta, a 12-mile long landform in Northern New Mexico, contains the largest number of petroglyphs in the state with over 55,000 petroglyphs currently recorded and an estimated potential of 100,000. The Mesa has the largest concentration of historic petroglyphs in New Mexico, and arguably the largest quantity from two other classification periods, Puebloan and Archaic. Spared the ravaging of more conveniently located sites, here early water management systems, hidden shrines, ceramics, field houses and more are still being discovered regularly. 

The Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project is committed to protect and preserve the cultural legacy of Mesa Prieta. The project is privileged to use the Wells Petroglyph Preserve for outreach and education. The 181-acre preserve is private, and was donated to the Archaeologic Conservancy in 2007 by the project founder, Katherine Wells.

Located just north of the town of Española, a team of over 100 volunteers working year-round are charged with charting and preserving these inestimable treasures for future generations, while making them an educational resource for anyone with a curious mind. Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project’s programs such as a monthly lecture series (Pláticas), award winning Summer Youth Intern Program, and a STEM based curriculum tailored for 4th-7th graders, promote the history of the site’s estimated 100,000 images scattered through its 12-mile landmass. 

In keeping with their not for profit mission, private and public weekly tours of the Wells Petroglyph Preserve are available through pre-arrangement.

Know Before You Go

Visit the website to book a tour and learn more:

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October 2, 2015

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