Subscribe!Get all the best of On Walkabout by subscribing.

On Walkabout At: Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, New Mexico

One of the more interesting places to visit in New Mexico for those interested in exploring the state’s Native-American past is the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site located between the cities of Tularosa and Carrizozo, New Mexico:

three rivers map

What makes this site so unique for those interested in Native-American history is that visitors have easy access to view more than 21,000 petroglyphs of animals, people, fish, insects, plants, etc. that the Indians that lived in the area drew on the rocks.  The inhabitants of a nearby Native-American farming village made the Three Rivers Petroglyphs (rock carvings) between 1000 to 1400 AD.  The people of this village were of the Jornada Mogollon prehistoric Indian culture. The below map shows the range of the Jornada Mogollon people with the dotted line representing the Eastern Mogollon that shared many characteristics similar to the Mogollon:

Like other Native-American sites in the Southwest the Jornada Mogollon village at Three Rivers was abandoned over 600 years ago for unknown reasons. The village could have been abandoned due to drought or warfare with other tribes.  However during the time of this village the petroglyphs were drawn on this volcanic rock outcropping:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This rock outcropping is located about 5 miles off of US 54 where the Bureau of Land Management has constructed a very nice picnic area for visitors:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

From the picnic area there is a trail that ascends up the rock outcropping that allows visitors easy access to view these historic petroglyphs:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is the view from the top of these steps looking back towards the picnic area:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The volcanic rock outcropping composes a ridgeline that travels from south to north.  Carrizozo Peak can be seen in the northern distance in the below picture from the ridgeline:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Towards the halfway point of the ridgeline trail there is a covered picnic table for visitors to relax and get out of the sun:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

It gets very hot here in the summer and temperatures over 100 degrees should be expected.  I brought plenty of water and sunscreen with me so I really didn’t need the shade, but I saw some other visitors that definitely made some good use of the shade.  Here is a view looking up the ridgeline towards the end of the trail:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is the view looking back towards the shaded area from the end of the ridgeline:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

It took me about two hours round trip to complete the entire trail and look at all the petroglyphs.  If someone isn’t into checking out petroglyphs like I am and hour is plenty of time to explore this unique park.  Here are some examples of the type of petroglyphs visitors will see at Three River.  The picture below shows one of the first petroglyphs visitors will see and I don’t know what it means, but it is a symbol commonly repeated throughout the rock outcropping:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is another common version of this petroglyph I saw at the site:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The petroglyphs’ purpose and meaning are not entirely clear.  Some depict the animals and plants the people saw around them like this mountain goat:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is an eagle that amazingly looks just like the symbolic eagle used by the US government:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is a mountain goat that was shot with arrows:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

What is interesting about the mountain goat art is the fact that there are no more wild mountain goats like this in the White Mountains.

Here is a bear paw:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Now bears are something that still frequent the White Mountains today. Here is something that appears to be a bobcat of some kind:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is an image of a lizard:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Many almost certainly had religious meaning.  This symbol below looks like some kind of shaman:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This symbol also looked like some kind of painted shaman:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This petroglyph looked like some spooky eyes staring me down:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Others were just simply of various faces.  This looked like some guy sticking his tongue out at me:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This guy has what I would call a big sh**eating grin:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This face was actually pretty clever because it was drawn on a rock face that was the shape of a human face:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Other symbols are just patterns that have some kind of unknown meaning to the people who drew them:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This pattern actually looked like two arrowheads meeting each other:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is a petroglyph that I actually recognized because I saw it at the Gran Quivira pueblo ruins that means “migration”:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Then you had some of the petroglyphs of a more recent vintage such as this one depicting a horse:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This one also looks like a horse of some kind as well:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Images like this would not have come from the Jornada Mogollon because North America had no horse back then.  The horses arrived in North America in the 16th Century with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors.  This means that likely these images were drawn by Mescalero Apaches that lived in this area at the time and even continue to live in these mountains today.

Not all the rock art is from Native-Americans.  This one here was obviously drawn by someone who visited the site over 85 years ago:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Then you had are that maybe wasn’t drawn by anyone from the planet Earth.  This guy here looked like a space alien:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This isn’t too far from Roswell so you never know!  😉

There are many theories that have been given on why the Mogollon people drew their art on this ridgeline.  The ridge may have been a good lookout point, a sacred site, a stop on a trade route, or a point on a territorial boundary. I think all these theories are valid because from the ridgeline it provides some incredible views of the surrounding terrain.  Here is the view looking back towards the picnic area:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Below is a view looking towards the East.  The series of hills in the foreground are the Godfrey Hills.  The mountains beyond are part of the Lincoln National Forest’s White Mountain Wilderness.  The mountains provide plenty of opportunities for visitors to hike and backpack in cool high altitude pine forests.  The mountains are also filled with native wildlife such as deer and bears.  The highest peak of the mountains is Sierra Blanca that towers to 11,973 feet in altitude.:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is a closeup look at the Godfrey Hills that are just to the east of the rock outcropping:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The Tularosa Basin look South towards Alamogordo:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here was the view looking to the San Andreas Mountains to the West:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Here is the view looking towards the end of the rock outcropping:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

When standing at the base of the outcropping it was easy to imagine the Jornada people pulling village watch duty here or waiting for game to pass by to hunt and passing time by drawing on these rocks:

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

I mean really what else would they have to do to pass time?

Picture from the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

All in all my visit to the Three Rivers Petroglyphs was extremely interesting.  It is a bit out of the way, but if you are traveling down Highway 54 for some reason it is definitely worth stopping here to break up your trip.  The site provides an interesting look back into our nation’s Native-American past and provides a great vantage point to take pictures of the surrounding mountains and desert scenery.

Here is some administrative information about the site for those interested in visiting this wonderful location:

Fees
$2 per vehicle for day use and camping. Fees for the site’s two RV hook-ups are $10.

Season/Hours
Open year-round.
From April to October, the entrance gate is open from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. From October until April, it is open from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Non-campers must be out by 10:00 p.m. year-round.
One Comment

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *