A Journey Back in Time to the Spectacular Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of New Mexico… Part 1

Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico.

Evening shadows, combining with a layer of clouds stretching along the Sacramento Mountains, provided an air of mystery for the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of southern New Mexico. Peggy and I could hear coyotes on the hunt calling to each other in the valley below, a sound as old as humankind.


It’s tough when play gets in the way of blogging. Something has to give. Guess what? (grin) I had slated today for the beginning of my Native American rock art series. And so it shall be. But I was going to feature the trip we made a few days ago through the Lava Beds National Monument. There’s no time to produce it now; Peggy and I are on the road again. After all, we stayed home for five days. So, I am going to take you back in time to our visit of the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of southern New Mexico. I know some of you traveled there with us. I think you will find the revisit worthwhile. For the rest of you, be prepared for a treat. I can’t think of a better place to begin an exploration of the rock art sites that are found scattered throughout the western United States.

Groups of petroglyphs found at Three Rivers Site, New Mexico.

Three Rivers is chock full of petroglyphs, made by ancient peoples using a rock to peck through desert varnish. Searching for rock art is like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you strike it rich and find a bunch in one location, like this. How many can you find among the rocks here?

Peggy and I have been visiting rock art sites throughout the Southwestern United States for the past 19 years. The Three Rivers’ site is one of our favorites. Some 21,000 petroglyphs featuring everything from people to bugs are spread out over 50 acres. Created by the Jornada Mogollon people of the Chihuahuan Desert, the glyphs were pecked into rock using stone tools for a period of over 500 years starting in 900 AD.

This is wide-open country, set off by dramatic mountains. Within a hundred miles of Three Rivers, Billy the Kid fought in the Lincoln County Wars, Smokey the Bear was found hidden in a tree avoiding a forest fire, bug-eyed aliens became synonymous with Roswell, and history was forever changed with the explosion of the world’s first atomic bomb.

Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico with Sacramento Mountains providing the backdrop.

Native Americans often chose cliff areas such as those on the left for their rock art. Peggy and I have spent a lot of time scrambling around on such cliffs.

I rode through the area on my bicycle as part of my ten-thousand-mile trek around North America. It’s a long way between pit stops. The remoteness of the area is reflected well in the photo above.

Native Americans often chose special sites for their rock art and it is immediately apparent that the Three Rivers site is special. The words raw beauty come to mind. Set on a ridge, the site provides commanding views of the surrounding desert and mountains. Today, I am featuring the natural beauty of the region. In my next posts, I will focus on petroglyphs of people, animals, birds, geometric designs, animal tracks, reptiles, bugs and anything else that caught the fancy of the Jornada people, and us– including a whale and a mysterious ship.

Peggy stands on the ridge next to a rock likely to hold petroglyphs. Some glyphs are immediately obvious while others are hidden. Sharp eyes are required. And you need to hike around the whole rock.

Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

A final view of the remote, mysterious area. I’m always on the lookout for UFOs!

NEXT BLOG: I will look at glyphs that feature the Jornada Mogollon people and their gods. Below is an example.

Petroglyph from Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

…An abstract geometric design with eyes. Another reason I scan the skies for aliens!










26 thoughts on “A Journey Back in Time to the Spectacular Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site of New Mexico… Part 1

  1. Such a wonderful, historical and mystic trail you take us all. And thank you Peggy for letting us tag along. How right you are about “raw beauty”. It is nature unembellished or messed up. Just pure speaking out, sometimes whispering, sometimes loud.
    I love the petroglyphs – reminds me of the stone carvings at the World Heritage site near my summer place in Sweden.

    The mystery of this place gets to me, no wonder the Native people choose it as a sacred place.

    • Thank you Miriam. I will be featuring where the rock art is located as well as the petroglyphs in this series. Each of the areas tend to have a special character, a special beauty, if you will, that suggests the early peoples appreciated the quality of the place as much as we do today. Rock art is found throughout the world, form the Outback of Australia to the caves of France. I’d love to head out and see it all. 🙂 But this series will be limited to the Western US. –Curt

    • Plenty around the area, Suan! If Mel went north out of Phoenix to Montezuma’s Castle, there is a site nearby. I’ll be featuring the rock art from the area in one of my series. –Curt

    • Laughing, sort of. Or maybe still being visited? 🙂 There are certainly lots of strange petroglyphs, Andrew, that suggest potent drugs, great imaginations, or… I’ll be featuring a number of the petroglyphs in this series. –Curt

  2. Such cool places.
    When I was growing up, we traveled the west every summer – before the NPS blocked off places and now won’t let you crawl all around old ruins and places. Despite the skunks running through the tent under the cots, it was a pretty magical experience.
    Enjoying your travels and photos.

    • Fortunately, Phil, there are still places like Three Rivers where you can wander and explore to your heart’s desire.
      Skunks add a little flavor, or at least smell. We have one who thinks it should live under our deck. Big fellow. Peggy keeps putting out moth balls to discourage him. He keeps moving the moth balls. Magic indeed.
      Glad you to have you along for the adventure.
      Likewise, I’ve been enjoying your musings. –Curt

      • We had a family of skunks under the deck next door for a while – those little guys are really hilarious to watch. We had an ancient old cat that liked to sleep on our desk. Sometime the little skunks would hop over and try to cuddle up – Tiger would swat at them and they’d leave. Their Mom had them on a nightly tour around the neighborhood.
        As rabies were a real concern in that area that summer, we eventually hired Mr Skunk to relocate them. He was such a gentle soul who worked for the city during the day, and animal skunk rescue at night. (Now he’s a whole post in itself). The skunks somehow knew he would not hurt them and was taking them to a great place. Everybody ended up happy. He said skunks are smart and just like human moms, they want to give their kids the best neighborhood possible. We enjoyed knowing him. Good luck with your fuzzy resident.

      • Would have been fun to see the cat and the skunks. I relocate ground squirrels in much the same way… over the river and through the woods. Can’t say they appreciate my efforts. There isn’t a garden where I take them. 🙂
        Reminded of watching a fawn and a buck last year. The buck was really kind with the baby but the baby kept mistaking the bucks danglies with the moms teats. Talk about hilarious. –Curt

  3. Such mystery, such art and visions. Splendid photos. Australia too has rock art, often hidden in caves. The aboriginals are great artists. At the moment there is a movement underway to change the constitution, recognizing that the aboriginals are the original owners and inhabitants of Australia.
    This is being resisted, claiming it will be too difficult.

    • I’ve wanted to check out Australia’s rock art for years, Gerard. Did you ever read “Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin? I totally agree on the mystery, art and visions. –Curt

  4. I’m so glad you and Peggy hike around these cliffs and rocks with your camera in tow. Otherwise, I’d never get to see these petroglyphs. I’m not only afraid of heights and climbing on rocks, but I’m pretty obtuse when it comes to spotting things that might be hidden.

    • It is fun searching for them, Juliann. Most places that we have been are recognized for their petroglyphs. I’ll show some areas that are even fenced off. Three Rivers is one of those places where just wandering around and looking is rewarded! You do learn to look in certain locations, however. Thanks. –Curt

    • The answer is a definite yes, Dave, at least on public land. For the most part, people respect the law. Up until modern times, however, people commonly chipped in their own messages. Some, by pioneers, are now considered historical. As always, there are a certain number of vandals as well as people who profit in antiquities. –Curt

  5. Curt, what astonishing scenery and the location for so many historic events. Peggy looks like she is in her element here, exuding peace and the astute traveller. 😀❤️

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