Rocks Crawling with Snakes… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico

There are lots of snakes found among the rocks at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico— rock art snakes. This is a rattlesnake. Check out the triangular, pit viper head. Also note that the break in the rock was used by the artist to provide a 3-D effect, which was a technique used frequently by Three Rivers artists..

Panamint Rattlesnake in Death Valley.

We found his cousin in the Panamint Mountains of Death Valley. Peggy took its photo out the window of our truck. I thought it would look great coiled up with its tail buzzing and was taking my seatbelt off when Peggy did some rattling of her own, buzzing up the road, thwarting my desire to get up close and personal.


Peggy and I have returned from another backpacking trip, a little sore but fine otherwise. We travelled through a gorgeous virgin forest near our home in mountains we can see from our patio. Giant trees including Red Cedar, White Pine, Sugar Pine and Douglas Fir provided shade. It’s Big Foot country and we kept a sharp lookout. And, indeed, we may have found some proof of the big fellow’s existence! Be sure to catch my next post. But for now, back to the snakes of the Three River’s Petroglyph Site.


Bad snakes have been giving good snakes a bum rap for eons. It all started when the Biblical Eve bit into the apple she had obtained from the proverbial snake in the tree and realized that she was naked. It must have been a shocking discovery. Snakes have been pummeled, stomped, cut up, diced, crushed, shot, speared and smashed ever since.

Actually, there is no such thing as a bad snake; there are only snakes that have had a bad childhood and will bite you if you step on them, or wake them up when they are sunbathing on their favorite rock, or lollygagging in a scummy pond. They don’t really mean to kill you; it’s a waste of good venom. Normally, we are too big to eat. Although there was that huge boa that lived in the lake next to my house in Liberia…

I’ve had numerous snake encounters over the years from the rainforests of West Africa to the rattlesnake country of the American West. Believe me when I say there is nothing like stepping on a log and having it come alive with the buzz of rattlesnakes. I once set an Olympic record for the standing long jump when that happened.

The Jornada Mogollon people of the Three Rivers Petroglyph site must have had a special relationship with snakes. There are numerous snake glyphs scattered throughout the area— and these are BIG snakes with BIG heads and jaws. “The better to bite you with my dear.” I suspect the snakes were considered sacred and worshipped, which is what the nearby Navajo and Hopi people did.


Another rattler. Obviously, the artist wanted to emphasize the business part of the snake— its head.

In one place, we found several snakes slithering down the rocks, which was a bit creepy-crawly!

Rattlesnakes aren’t the only poisonous denizens of the desert recorded by the petroglyphs found at Three Rivers. There are also spiders and scorpions. There was a good reason that cowboys of the Old West always shook out their boots in the morning before putting them on. On the more benign side of the equation, there are a number of rock art lizards.

For the record, Peggy and I always shake out our outdoor shoes before putting them on as well. We’ve never found a scorpion, but spiders are common, and lizards. Peggy once wore her boots for an hour wondering why her foot had developed a toe twitch. She took it off and a lizard hit the ground— running. It still may be.

Scorpions pack a considerable wallop in their tails. It’s best to keep out of their reach.

I’m assuming that this guy is a spider, although it could use some more legs. Artistic license, perhaps? Or maybe it’s a beetle.

We’ve found petroglyphs of lizards in almost every rock art site we have visited throughout the Southwest. This one came with a crooked tail.

This is one of our local lizards that live around our house and think of our shoes as a great place to hang out. It’s my last photo of the day.


NEXT POST: A Land of Forest Giants… And Bigfoot.


47 thoughts on “Rocks Crawling with Snakes… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico

  1. I love my new little lizard yardmates here in Texas, but I’m not as eager (as I was when I was a kid) to see too many snakes. The little ones are fine, but we do have a number of venomous snakes around here that I don’t need to see! Looking forward to reading about your backpacking trip.

    • We really like our numerous lizards as they hustle about catching bugs, Lex. As for snakes, I prefer that the poisonous ones keep their distance. I prefer seeing them out in the woods! –Curt

  2. No poisonous snakes in the Bahamas, but lots of Bahama Boas. (Locally called chicken Snakes as they will raid the nests and coops). Interesting your interaction with them and your interest in them – also Peggy speeding you away to save those snakes from an unfamiliar appetiser!

    • Do the Bahama Boas eat the chickens or only the eggs, Robert? And how big do they get? I think I developed my interest in snakes in Africa, where the Liberians, and my cat Rasputin, considered all snakes poisonous.
      And yes, Peggy doesn’t share my enthusiasm. 🙂 –Curt

  3. Peggy is a smart woman. (What is it with guys and snakes and their I-just-wanna-get-a-little-closer attitude?!?) Ah, the standing long jump, Curt. I think I may have won an award for flying when, in sandals and shorts, I plunked my foot down next to a diamondback resting in the shade of a creosote. I NEVER wear such flimsy footwear the desert. Except. Except this time we were entertaining fellow RVers just outside our rig and I thought it would be safe. Luckily both the snake and I escaped unharmed and I got a good song out of the adventure. 🙂

    • My ‘closer’ is limited to outside of how far they can strike, Sally. And I have been known to back up quickly when I am down on my belly trying to capture photos of snakes slithering toward me.
      I’ll bet you jumped. I may even allow that you jumped farther than I did. Laughing. –Curt

  4. A dangerous place to spend time in Australia is the back-yard dunny (toilet). The venomous red-back spider’s favourite nesting place underneath the seat. It pays to be vigilant and inspect the toilet-seat before settling down.

  5. “Actually, there is no such thing as a bad snake; there are only snakes that have had a bad childhood” You would make a great counselor for troubled youth. =)

    And that Peggy is a smart woman, buzzing out of there. She wouldn’t have plunged mankind into sin if she’d taken Eve’s place!

  6. I was never afraid of snakes growing up in Oz. They were there. We were taught about them. They pretty much stayed out of your way. But a rattler? Now *that* would scare me.

  7. I think snakes are beautiful although I admit to being intimidated by them. This line: “Actually, there is no such thing as a bad snake; there are only snakes that have had a bad childhood and will bite you if you step on them…”. Love that Curt.

    • I think all of us are genetically programmed to be a bit intimidated by snakes, Sylvia. And it’s interspecies. I had a cat in Liberia that would leap 4 feet in the air anytime it saw anything remotely resembling a snake. Smart cat. There were lots of poisonous snakes there. 🙂 Thanks! –Curt

  8. Wow, some awesome pictures!! Loved the one with the lizard. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by reptiles, so this was a wonderful post for me.

    Kathrin —

    • I could see where it would be an interesting way to challenge your faith, Dave. Or is that prove it. I’ve never seen a ceremony other than in photos or on TV. It’s one of many bizarre paths religion takes people down. How about you? –Curt

      • It defies logic to abandon common sense and natural instinct in the name of magical thinking. To abandon such God-given (as they believe) qualities would seem to be defying the deity rather than obeying …

  9. Curt, I don’t know how you do it! I’ve had zero snake encounter (lizards included) and wish to keep it that way!
    I didn’t find hiking along the Coast of South Africa all that relaxing. I had my eyes peeled on the path, looking for anything disguised as a stick. Luckily we didn’t see any puff adders sunning in the middle of the trail! – Ginette

    • I have several snake stories from Africa, Ginette. 🙂 But that was the tropics. I was in snakeville! There have to be at least 30 lizards that live outside our house. You can’t go outside with out seeing at least a half dozen. They are good little guys, eating lots of bugs. –Curt

  10. Let me tell you, pardner, it isn’t only the cowboys of the Old West who made a practice of shaking out boots. Up in the hill country west of Kerrville, it’s still standard practice because of the scorpions. Those bother me more than the snakes, actually. They’re sneakier and quieter. Even a slithering snake can be heard — as you so well know. The best rattlesnake story I’ve heard is of the guys who were taking down an old deer blind and discovered a nest of rattlers under one of the posts. Yeeeech!

    Did you hear the myths in Liberia about the pythons that could wrap themselves around a car or money bus and throw it in the bush? We had one driver at Phebe who refused to drive over any snake, no matter the size. Big or little, he knew he was a goner if he tried. That snake-o, he grow big! He take the bus, then he throw it!

    Did I tell you about the day I found a black mamba coming into the house? I’d been sweeping the floor, and opened the screen door — at which point the snake started coming in. Instinctively, I pulled the door closed with one panic-stricken gesture, and separated that snake’s head from its body. The I screamed for Philip, who brought his machete and chopped it into something like five hundred pieces. It took a while to get over that one. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I’m over it yet.

    • My basset hound Socrates once insisted on going out on a granite ledge that had a nest of rattlers buried down in the cracks. They all started buzzing at once. He responded by shoving his nose down in the crack and barking in his deep hound voice. The more he barked the more the snakes rattled. He would not come off of the granite. I had to go out and retrieve him! I was not a happy camper.

      Little scorpions can pack one heck of a wallop. It’s wise to be careful. Bigger ones maybe not so much but I caught one in Liberia that was the size of my fist and had a stinger the size of the end of my thumb.

      As for black mambas, my first wife caught one climbing the tree in our back yard and charged out with our machete. It was mincemeat when she got through! Another time she wasn’t quite so brave she was making use of our outdoor flush toilet when a snack slithered under the door and across her foot. She screamed. Very loudly. When I came racing out with our machete, I found her perched up on the toilet.

      Were you familiar with the big pond/reservoir on the Monrovia side of Gbarnga. It was next to our house. The soldiers actually drained the reservoir searching for the python that was supposed to live there. No luck. –Curt

  11. Your snake picture just about creeps me out — I don’t know how I would react if ever I came upon one. I’m totally unprepared! But if I were a drawer of petroglyphs, I would choose a snake to draw. After all, a squiggly line, and I’m done!

    • Laughing, Rusha. Maybe they start beginning rock artists off with drawing snakes! I confess, even after all of these years, seeing a rattle snake elevates my blood pressure, and especially if I hear one before I see it. –Curt

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