Beauty and Mystery… The Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site

This cottonwood decked out in fall colors was one of many views we had from the ridge where Peggy and I wandered among the rocks searching for rock art at the Three Rivers’ petroglyph site in New Mexico.

I find petroglyphs mysterious and magical. My attraction to the so-called primitive art started when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa way back in the 60s. I use the words ‘so-called’ because the art carries an inherent power and a simple beauty— both of which were recognized by artists such as Matisse and Picasso in the early 1900s— that defies the word primitive.

An African medicine mask I brought back from West Africa.

Petroglyphs and pictographs have the ability to transport us into another world and time— and, in so doing, enrich our lives.

While I have two more posts on petroglyphs from other sites we visited on our Southwest tour last fall, I am wrapping up my posts on the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site today. It is a special place that contains over 21,000 petroglyphs representing prehistoric Jornada Mogollon rock art created between 900 and 1400 CE. Peggy and I visited the area once before and will likely visit it again. Judging from our photos, we still have another 20,000 or so petroglyphs to find! (Grin) Aside from that, the beauty of the area alone would draw us back.

Peggy and I have often found petroglyphs located in beautiful areas and couldn’t help but wonder if that wasn’t a factor in deciding where to locate rock art. If I were going to peck out a masterpiece, I’d want this view. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The stream flowing through the area shown by these colorful cottonwoods was a village site for the Jornada.
While some petroglyphs are easily recognizable, like a roadrunner going after a rattle snake, others, such as this human-like figure grafted on to what appears to be an octopus, are mind boggling. I call him Octoman.
At first, Peggy and I couldn’t identify this bird. Checking out the Sibley Guide to Birds afterwards, we determined it was a roadrunner with its crest down. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Petroglyphs can be quite simple like this stick figure. Maybe it was the shaman’s day to take his child to work and he handed her a rock to peck with.
More sophisticated but what’s the meaning? It had me starry eyed.
Bighorn sheep petroglyphs are found throughout the Southwest. Some of the most sophisticated are found at Three Rivers. Note the use of the bump in the rock for the eye.
And this head on view. Note how the horns are curved back in a realistic way, even with a degree of perspective..
I may be wrong, but I looked at this and saw a fox. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
No question about this fish. Patterns are often tied into petroglyphs of animals, and in this case, fish. They may have meaning or they may just be decorations.
An insect also had patterns.
Just for fun, I think this is a dragonfly.
I found both the shading and the the eye impressive here.
Another view of the surrounding area. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Part of the mystery for me is trying to figure out what I am looking at. The triangle in the box is obvious as is the circle on the right. But is that a skull above the triangle with chin, mouth and eyes? Is there an arm over to the left? Or is my imagination working overtime again?
I’ll close my Three Rivers’ posts with photos of my favorite rock art from the site: this mountain lion with its tail proudly folded over his back.
A look at the rock including other rock art.
Looking up at the rock from below. My final photo today.

MONDAY’S POST: Think you have to go traipsing off to remote corners of the Southwest to find petroglyphs? Think again. The Petroglyph National Monument sits on the edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can be there within 15 minutes from downtown.

14 thoughts on “Beauty and Mystery… The Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site

  1. We visited the Petroglyph National Monument a couple years ago when we were out for the Balloon Fiesta, but it has been nearly 20 years since we saw Three Rivers. I had no idea it had so many petroglyphs.
    A guide once went into great detail about the meaning attributed to some petroglyphs on the Colorado River in Utah only to finish by saying: “that is the great thing about them: you can call them anything you want and no one can prove you wrong.”

    • Yep. Laughing.
      Three Rivers is just a matter of wandering and going beyond the trail. Most of these, minus some of the more exotic like the mountain lion are on or close to the trail, however, Ray.

  2. The one that left you starry-eyed looks like a kokopeli or a frog to me.

    You and Peggy find the most interesting geological places to visit. This one looks gorgeous! I like the clearing with the cottonwood trees, too.

  3. Curtis, if you run out of American Indian petroglyphs to study and photograph, come to Australia and start on the Aborigine equivalents. You and Peggy will love them.

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