Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Round Trip Distance: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4996 - 5111 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 1 hr. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Visitor Center
Fee: $5/vehicle
Attractions: Jornada Mogollon petroglyphs

The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is located between Tularosa and Carrizozo, New Mexico. Found at the site are approximately 21,400 petroglyphs that were etched onto basalt boulders by the Jornada Mogollon (hor-nah-dah moh-gee-own) people that lived in the Tularosa Basin between 200 AD to 1350 AD. The Jornada Mogollon were farmers that made fine pottery and hunted game animals with bows and arrows.

The turnoff to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site from New Mexico Highway 54 is 17 miles north of Tularosa and 27 miles south of Carrizozo. The Three Rivers Trading Post, where you can buy cold drinks and  gifts, is right at the turnoff.

After turning off of the highway it is another 5 miles to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site where there are restrooms with running water as well as a campground and picnic area. The campground is $7/night for a regular campsite and $15/night for one with RV hookups.

After checking in at the Visitor Center for orientation the trail begins just west of the restrooms.

The trail starts out deceivingly easy along a wide smooth path. A sign warns of the possibility of encountering rattlesnakes along the trail. Be sure to watch where you step when hiking among the rocks and if you see a rattlesnake step back and give it the right of way. It was a very hot day when we made the visit for this post and we didn't see any snakes or any trails in the dirt.

As the trail reaches the ridge and begins climbing the hill it becomes progressively more primitive.

As soon as the trail starts up the hill begin watching for petroglyphs. They are everywhere and any side trail that you notice will be worth following. We found this petroglyph of a cloud symbol to be interesting. It looks like it has lightening shooting out of it.

Images of animals like this bighorn sheep were made more anatomically correct compared to the abstract drawings found elsewhere throughout the southwest. We found that to be true of most all of the animal figures at the site making it seem more proper to refer to them as animals rather than zoomorphs.

There are a plethora of birds including roadrunners, owls, macaws, turkeys and others.

Here is another interesting figure with a cloud symbol on its head and holding a cornstalk or other such plant.

Examining this boulder reveals a man that is hunched over with his mouth open as though growling. His teeth seem to give him a fearsome appearance. We can't tell if his arm is in a position of supplication or whether it is getting ready to whack the other image.

Faces and masks are another common motif at the site. Many of them have a 3-D look from the manner in which they make use of the boulder that they are on.

The common turnaround point is a shelter that is about a half mile up the ridge. The trail continues past this point until it reaches a fence. We hiked another quarter mile of so to check out another rocky outcrop where we found many more fine images.

There are multiple routes that you can follow while hiking the trail making it hard to see everything there is to see. They say that it took them 6 years to catalog all 21,400 images. This trail only provides access to a fraction of the total number of petroglyphs. Many of the images at the site are the same as those found on their pottery. Three Rivers is a fascinating petroglyph site to explore. You can see quite a bit in only a couple of hours but it might be much more fulfilling if you spent a full day at the site. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.