If you like art and don’t mind a mild workout, you’ll enjoy the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.
Because Three Rivers contains one of the largest collections of prehistoric rock art in the American Southwest.
And you’ll find the collection on a series of hills.
That makes this day trip an art hop and hiking adventure all-in-one.
The drive to the site, located off Highway 54 about 17 miles north of Tularosa in Otero County, is easy enough.
It’s not until you arrive at the site that the workout begins.
The site, you see, is actually a cluster of hills covering over 50 acres of land. Huge rocks cover each hill. And prehistoric art images, over 20,000 in all, cover many of these rocks.
Most intriguing of all, not one of the images is the same.
To see most of the petroglyphs would take weeks or months of dedicated hiking while searching through the rocky hillsides. But the beauty of Three Rivers is you do have direct access to the art. So you can see and examine up close as many petroglyphs as you have time for.
Who created this prehistoric rock art?
The Jornada Mogollon.
The Mogollon were a people who flourished in the American Southwest between 200AD and 1450AD. Their villages extended northward from the current day Mexican state of Chihuahua through Southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona.
And the Jornada Mogollon was the branch of Mogollon who lived in within New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. The people made their way by farming and hunting. As hunters, they became skilled in fashioning and using sharp tools. This prowess helped them to make these petroglyphs we see today.
Each unique design came into being only after the Mogollon artist removed enough material from each rock’s surface to create it.
What struck me about these etchings was that they were here, there, and EVERYWHERE.
The great variety of pictures makes the hike interesting.
Some of the designs seem childlike; others, more intricate. It’s clear that the people who “drew” them had varying levels of artistic skill.
But what compelled the Mogollon to create?
Etching into hard stone takes serious work and these folks created THOUSANDS of images.
What were they after?
Like the sign at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site trailhead says, not even the experts are sure.
For that reason, when it comes to exploring theories on what the various petroglyphs meant, seems the sky is the limit.
So what do you think . . .
Was the Jornada Mogollon Rock Art an early form of graffiti . . . or something else?
In other words, were some petroglyphs meant to identify the individual who tooled it?
If so, one of the biggest guys in the neighborhood did this one.
Did others serve as address markers for their rock alcove homes?
Take, for example, this petroglyph.
The circle and dots combination was a popular motif among Mogollon artists. The dots, researchers say, may have represented corn or population.
So maybe the Mogollon who made this design meant to communicate to another Mogollon coming across it: “A large and prosperous family lives here.”
I said, Maybe.
More likely they made art for some of the reasons we do today.
That is, to express themselves and what they observed in visual terms. And to make a statement others would see and be impacted by long after they were gone.
If so, I’d say they were successful in their work.
Because 600 years have passed since the last Mogollon left the area or joined other tribes of people. Yet we KNOW they existed and have a decent idea WHO they were.
And thousands more are meeting them for the first time at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site each year.
- Learn more about the Mogollon, in general, and the Jornada Mogollon, in specifics. Who were they and where did they go?
- For a look at another facet of Mogollon creativity, check out Jornada Mogollon pottery.
Well that is just so cool! I mean prehistoric art? Who would’ve thought of that. Hiking is one of my favorite activities to do so this is definitely something I’d enjoy doing and then seeing these rocks would just be an added bonus! Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome, Yvonne! Especially for someone like you who enjoys what is quirky and/or unusual in the US, Three Rivers does seem like a good fit.
We have some petroglyph sites in California too, and all of them involve some hiking. I find this hike at Three Rivers fascinating, but I don’t think I’d be able to cove 50 acres of land to see the entire site. It’s great that you still have direct access to the rocks. I’d be very surprised if this won’t change in the near future. I’ve seen it happen in many places already because they are trying to preserve the sites.
Sigh. That the authorities might eventually limit our access to this remarkable site is something that occurred to me as well. Yet, how they would effectively do so across a site of this size ~ besides stationing enough staff at every turn to ensure visitors look but don’t touch ~ I don’t know. I doubt they will enclose the petroglyphs and the hills they are on! Only hope decision makers keep in mind the six hundred plus years of winds, rain, and dust storms that have already assaulted the Three Rivers Petroglyphs since the Mogollon created them. And that whatever damage we, a curious public, might inflict on them would not be much more violent than what nature has already done and continues to do.