When You've Seen One Petroglyph, You've Seen Them All
Dec 17, 2006
|Not far up the road from Alamogordo, about 30 miles, is the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, so we drove up there to see what it was all about. This site, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, contains over 21,000 petroglyphs made by the Jornada Mogollon Indians between 900 and 1400 AD. They used stone tools to scratch away the dark patina on the rocks. It took over six years for archeologists to photograph and record all the petroglyphs that were found here.
No one knows exactly what the drawings mean or why they were made here, although I liked one explanation I read in a New Mexico tourist magazine. They surmised that this giant rock pile was a place that young male Indians would have come to hunt animals, and while they were patiently waiting for their prey to appear, they were bored and scratched pictures on the rocks. Prehistoric graffiti! This trail was literally a narrow dirt path circling a large pile of rocks, half a mile up and then half a mile back down. The rocky walk was a little bit of a challenge, but we enjoyed the exercise and seeing all the rock pictures.
Here are some of the pictures I took of the drawings. Some of the pictures are geometric designs. This circle and dot design is quite prevalent here.
I think this one is a bird claw or track in a circle surrounded by dots, but it also looks strangely like a peace symbol from the 1960's and made me suspect that there might be a few modern day petroglyphs interspersed among the genuine ones.
. Animals, animal tracks and birds are also popular subjects. Some are easy to identify, while others are quite abstract. Here's a group of drawings that combines animal, human and bird figures.
Some of the animal pictures combined the animal with geometric designs.
Here's a single rock with a cluster of figures on it. Are they trying to tell a story?
Another cluster of drawings on a group of rocks sure gives credence to the graffiti theory.
Faces and masks were also popular drawings. Most of the time, the faces were quite round. And then there is this drawing, which Fred looked at and asked what could it be?
I looked at it and said it looked like a martini glass, but I was quite sure the Indians didn't make 'tinis. The hike up this trail was quite strenuous; could I have been thinking ahead to cocktail time? :)
We were surprised to find two gorgeous RV camp sites here. It's one of those little secrets that you accidentally stumble on. Only two sites, they were very long pull throughs with water and electric hookups, and nice picnic tables on spacious flat land with beautiful overlooks to some great vistas. We could just imagine camping here, waking in the morning to private peaceful quiet sunrises, alone except for the camp host, and possibly one other camper. The day we were there, no one was using the sites. If we had known about these, we would surely have stayed here. These BLM sites are only $10 a night, $5 for us with the Golden Age Passport. But we were almost at the end of our stay in Alamogordo with reservations next at the Hueco Tanks State Historical Site in El Paso.
There is also another BLM campground here, about 6 miles east of the site, down a dirt road towards the mountains. Curious we drove down to check it out. On the road we came upon a group of cows crossing the road, in no particular hurry to get out of our way. I snapped this picture as they stood looking at us.
It was a pretty park, but no hookups, and the sites were really too small for a rig our size.
After we finished at Three Rivers, it was still early enough to make a side trip to Cloudcroft before we went home for the day. The Cloudcroft excursion had been recommended to us by one of our readers, and we are really glad we took the time to go up there. It was a 17 mile ride, with grades of about 5-6% almost the whole way, up to an elevation of 8,750 feet. I'm sure glad we weren't pulling the trailer on that ride! The road to Cloudcroft and back provided some gorgeous vistas. This was one of those times when the journey was even better than the destination.
Our time at Alamogordo was up, and it was time to move on to our next destination: Hueco Tanks State Historical Site, just east of El Paso, Texas. We had read about this place in one of the Texas guidebooks and thought it would be a great stop for us. A highly regulated site, we were happy to find they had availability. It's an important archeological site for their rock paintings which were done by the same people as the petroglyphs at Three Rivers. This time, instead of scratching the pictures into the rocks, they used a primitive paint to make their pictures.
In retrospect, if we had understood all the rules and regulations here, I think we would have thought twice about coming. It is quite beautiful though; there are only 20 campsites, and each is pretty and private. Most had rustic structures over the picnic tables. Our coach backed up to a group of trees that housed tons of birds.
It's been a long time since we backed up to trees, and I really enjoyed being able to leave the window shades up all the time and watching the birds. We hung our bird feeder on the back window, and had regular visitors, like this one.
I checked our bird book to identify it, and was surprised to learn it is a female Northern Cardinal. The males of this species are bright red (hence the name), but the females are this buff brown with red tinges on crest, wings and tail. Even Phoenix enjoyed watching the birds, although I think she would have preferred to be outside playing with them :) Here she is on the couch waiting for our visitors.
Hueco means "hollows" and the "tanks" are what was formed on the floor of the valley by water that came down the fracture patterns in the massive boulder like rocks. This area was once quite moist and provided a fertile valley in which the Indians were able to farm corn, beans and squash. The formation of the large boulders provided many caves where the Indians could go to escape the heat. They obviously spent a lot of time there as evidenced by the paintings that have been found.
But admittance to the park site is tightly restricted. There is the North Mountain area which is a self guided area, and includes many rock climbing opportunities. The park only allows 70 visitors at any one time in this area, including the climbers. Rock climbers come from all over the country, and even outside the country, just to climb here. The East Mountain area is restricted to guided tours only. We made reservations to camp for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We were able to have a campsite for all three days, but when I made the reservations, they told me we could only walk around the park on Thursday. Friday and Saturday were booked up. We were able to get on a guided tour to the East Mountain for Friday. Saturday, we would have to stay at our campsite, or drive out of the park. Is that not strange? Also, the park gates close and lock at 6:00pm every day and that includes the campers. So even if we left the park, we had to be back by 6:00.
We had to check in at the office every day. And if you were on the list for the self guided area, you had to let them know when you were walking around, and let them know when you were done and going back to your site. That way, they could let more people come into the park that day. I know there is a good reason for this restriction. Years ago, as many as 1,000 people a day would come here to explore the rocks, caves and paintings. It was too much for the fragile ecology to sustain. Many of the paintings were harmed by the traffic. Also, many people felt compelled to add their modern day graffiti to the paintings. In some areas, this graffiti obscures the old Indian rock paintings and it is painful to look at. Although we did find out on our guided walk on Friday, that some of what we looked at and just saw as modern graffiti actually dates back to the 1800's when this was a stagecoach stop.
This painting is of a deer type animal.
This elaborate painting was done in a light cream colored paint.
Kind of looks like a wild eyed alien to me! Very many of the paintings were faces, called masks. This was my favorite, as it was vivid and two color.
And speaking of our guided tour, we had a great guide, Tom, a retired archeologist who lives in Las Cruces. It's a 75 mile one way drive for him, but he gladly comes to give the tours when he is called. He spent his archeological career studying this area, its people, paintings and petroglyphs. He had great insight and really helped us to understand what we were looking at. We hiked over three hours with Tom, and he took us to some caves with wonderful paintings that he doesn't always show folks. He told us he doesn't want everyone to know where they are. He was quite a character, and this blog wouldn't be complete without showing you his picture.
While we were walking, I spotted an owl up on the rocks. When you see this picture, you'll wonder how I even saw it. Many creatures develop a camouflage coloring that allows them to blend in with their surroundings. When I pulled the picture up on the computer, I was even more amazed at how well he blended in.
We even saw a Walking Stick insect. Tom noticed it. I would never have seen it, and probably could have stepped on it. I was very careful after he pointed it out.
We sure enjoyed our guided tour. It was almost like our own private tour. There was only one other person besides us. She was a very nice lady named Gayle. We spent some time talking, and I learned she has been fulltiming for 12 years, solo. At 70 years old, I give her a lot of credit. She spent her career as a classical violinist in a symphony orchestra. After she retired, she decided to go on the road RVing alone. Somewhere on that journey she discovered fiddling, and that has been her interest ever since. She spends winters at an RV park in Mission, TX, where she jams regularly with other fiddlers. Her summer home base is in Oregon. She plans her journey between those two points to include as many fiddling contests as possible, and to enjoy the beauty of nature in state and national parks. It was a pleasure to make her acquaintance.
Once we leave the "park of many restrictions" we'll have to see where we spend the holidays. We love New Mexico, "The Land of Enchantment", but we're struggling with the cold weather.