Travel Back in Time at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico

Did you know there was a place in New Mexico where you could hike a trail and be transported back in time? If you venture off the beaten path to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site, you will be amazed at the history just laying amid the rocks. As you traverse the trails that the Native American’s called home many many years ago, pause a minute and imagine these people freely walking around drawing on the rocks.

This artwork is known as Petroglyphs.

There are more than 21,000 petroglyphs at Three Rivers. Petroglyph means rock carving. The petroglyphs at Three Rivers were made by the Native Americans referred to as the Jornada Mogollons. The artwork was done by using stone tools to remove the dark patina on the outside of the rock. Some of the petroglyphs were made by simply scratching through the patina to the light inner layer of the rock. The more detailed and vivid petroglyphs were made by using two rocks like a hammer and chisel to peck through the patina.
When exploring the petroglyphs, you will notice that some images are lighter than other. WHY? Here is the scientific reason: It is because the oxygen in the air comes in contact with the minerals in the rock’s surface oxidation occurs making the the patina. Basically, the rock is turning back to its original black color. We saw evidence of this as we walked through the site. Before I show you the drawings, look below at the breath-taking sites that engulf the petroglyphs.
Sierra Blanca Mountains
View on the road to Three Rivers. Amazing! The Sierra Blanca Mountains.
Would you like to be transported back in time? Visit Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in NM. Click To Tweet

                                Three Rivers Petroglyph Site has two trails.

transport back in time trail
After eating our picnic lunch in the van because the wind was blowing cold air all around us, we decided to hike one of the trails.  One trail leads to a partially excavated ancient Mogollon(mug-e-yon) village. The other trail is a 1 mile rugged, and steep trail that leads through the Petroglyphs. We decided to take the Petroglyph trail. I had hoped we would have time to complete both trails but the weather did not corporate with us and Katie was tired. (This is a site we will have to revisit.) The picture above is from the Petroglyph trail.

We didn’t have to walk far until we started seeing the artwork done by the Native Americans who lived here between 900AD and 1400AD.

Three Rivers Petroglyph
Many archaeologists believe that the petroglyphs are a picture writing, with each picture representing a word or thought. Most archaeologists agree that together the pictures relate a story, an idea, or give directions to other tribes. There is considerable debate about what each individual picture may represent.  We walked all around the ancient works of art like we were in an outdoor art museum. We saw what looked like people, animals, birds, fish and more.
artist in history
The above photo looks like a person with a beard. Or could it be a mask?  Sierra pointed out that the image was divided in half by the use of the bend in the rock.  We noticed the details and the fact that he wasn’t smiling. Maybe his hands hurt from scraping the image on the rock. Whatever, the reason it was cool to sit where someone sat long ago and took the time to etch his thoughts on a rock for all to see.

The trail head contains a map with some details about the petroglyphs.

Compare this one to the picture above. This portrait looks totally different than the one above. Different artists?  The bottom image is not as detailed and as precise. Also, notice difference in the eyes and noses.
historic site
Bird or fish??
Three Rivers Petroglyphs
Looks like a bird with something in its mouth. Next to it on the smaller rock, looks to be a lizard. In this stack of rocks we counted 7 different petroglyphs.

Wonder if this hand print was from a boy or girl?

It looks almost the size of Jacob’s. Maybe it was a boy who was 6 years old. Maybe a father and son sat here one day spending time together and decided to trace and fill in the boy’s hand. Or, could it be that the artist just wanted other tribes to know that younger children were in the area?  Whatever the reason, Jacob found it amazing to put his hand where Native Americans had placed theirs many years ago.
Three Rivers Petroglyph
Now, this resembles a fish. Not sure what the circle around the fish signifies.

 Can You Imagine what life was like for the Jornada Mogollon’s?

About 1/2 way up the trail, we sat down for a short break. I had the children close their eyes and imagine what life must have been like for the Jornada Mogollon’s who lived in this area. We listened to the sound of nature, felt the rocks with our hands, and imagined children playing hide and seek all around these rocks. We thought about the noise that two rocks make when scraped together and the moans that would have been grunted if someones knuckles scraped the rocks.
Three Rivers Petroglyph
Historians think the Jornada Mogollon people practiced an animistic religion, and worshiped nature. Therefore, archaeologists think a lot of the artwork may depict their views on religion. Some of the people and faces resemble mythical beings kind of like kachinas. Sadly, we realized that these talented individuals didn’t know about the ONE TRUE GOD but worshiped gods of nature.
I am pointing to what looks like an Eagle head. I am amazed at the straight lines and the precisely pointed beak. These rocks were very close to a cliff over hang. Could the elders of the tribe have been the artist of these petroglyphs? Of course in 1000AD, there may not have been an over hang – who knows??
Three Rivers Petroglyph
Lizard??  The effects of time are taking a toll on this rock. Three Rivers Petroglyph site is one of the largest rock art sites in the Southwest. Hopefully, it will stand the test of time and vandals for many more years.
Hands of history

 Hand from history and the hands of the future all in one photo. AWESOME!

Three Rivers Petroglyph
This looks like an Armadillo with an arrow through it. The field guide from Three Rivers Petroglyph Site suggests a Big Horn Sheep. Not sure what the picture is to the left.
Notice the earrings craved on the artwork. The attention to detail is outstanding in these petroglyphs. They are something to admire!!

The Jornada Mogollon people were hunters and gathers.

They ate edible plants such as Mesquite seeds, and cacti. This area is at the base of the 12,003 foot Sierra Blanca Mountains which made water plentiful during the Mogollon’s time period. Historians believe that a drought in the late 1300’s hundreds could have force the Jornada Mogollons out of this area.
 Not only will I remember the rock art that we saw, and touched today, but I will remember the voices of all our children calling out, “Mom, look over here. OH, WOW look at this! Dad you have to see this one. Hannah move – I want to look at that. Mom, what is this?”  Jeff even kept saying, “Hand me a camera. Sierra, did you get a picture of this one?”  This is a day that I hope has been etched into our memories for as long as we remain on Earth.
We all enjoyed our day at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.

Do you know any where else in the USA that has Petroglyphs? If so, please leave us a comment on our Facebook page.

We look forward to hearing about your adventures at Three Rivers Petroglyphs and learning of more places we should visit.

First published on June 5th, 2010.


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