Well, they Didn't Have Camera's
As you drive north from Tularosa, heading to the western trailhead for the areas highpoint, Sierra Blanca, you pass an unexceptional low ridgeline on your left.. or, at least you would if there was not a very obvious picnic grounds and campground right next to the road, clearly signed as the Three Rivers PetroGlyphs, an area managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This low ridge houses one of the largest collection of petroglyphs to be found anywhere... currently numbering over 21,000.
This collection of glyphs is adjacent to the village site just south of the ridge, once housing over 20,000 Native Americans along the riparian area drainage of the snow capped mountains just to the east.
The purpose of this huge collection of rock art has not been determined. As you wander among the rocks, noting the interesting variety of etchings you can form your own opinion of just what might have been going on. I lean towards a non-artistic expression, and a non-religious undertaking... perhaps an area where there was a verbal process underway that the rockwork supported or augmented. I find it as interesting what is not depicted in the art work, as what is to be found there. Also, the orientation of the various pictures do not tend to suggest any sense of meditive activity. Yet, who is to tell.
The population that once occupied this area does not seem to have any currently existing ancestry. Little is known of their lifestyle nor their traditions. In addition to the trail up and through the rocks, there is also a trail that heads over to the river, the site of the village.
The total mileage you log while visiting this site will be determined by just how much of the maintained trail and the winding and connecting side trails you end up following along the ridgeline.
To really make for a nice day, instead of driving into the park area, stop out on the hiway at the old trading post and ride your bike into the site... or even better, use your mountain bike and ride all the way into the Three Rivers Campground, mostly gravel and dirt once past the petroglyph area. You'll have a great all downhill ride back to your car, and exceptional mountain views on your way up and in.
The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is one of the few locations in the Southwest set aside solely because of its rock art. It is also one of the few sites giving visitors such direct access to petroglyphs. The number and concentration of petroglyphs here make it one of the largest and most interesting petroglyphs sites in the Southwest. More than 21,000 glyphs of birds, humans, animals, fish, insects and plants, as well as numerous geometric and abstract designs are scattered over 50 acres of New Mexico's northern Chihuahuan Desert. The petroglyphs at Three Rivers, dating back to between about 900 and 1400 AD, were created by Jornada Mogollon people who used stone tools to remove the dark patina on the exterior of the rock. A small pueblo ruin is nearby and Sierra Blanca towers above to the east. A detailed petroglyph guide is available at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.
A rugged trail begins at the visitor shelter and links many of the most interesting petroglyphs. Another short trail begins on the east side of the picnic area and leads to the remains of a Mogollon village, whose inhabitants were likely responsible for the petroglyphs. Occupied for about 400 years, the site was partially excavated in 1976. On the village site, there are foundations of three types of prehistoric buildings. A small pueblo ruin is nearby.
Facilities: The site offers 5 shelters, 1 group/handicap site, and 2 RV sites. Pets are allowed in the campground, but NOT on the trails. Restrooms and drinking water also are available.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.