|Messages Carved in Rock
The Three Rivers Petroglyphs are outstanding examples of prehistoric Jornada Mogollon rock art. The basaltic ridge rising above the Three Rivers valley contains over 21,000 petroglyphs, including masks, sunbursts, wildlife, hand prints and geometric designs. The number and concentration of petroglyphs here makes this one of the largest and most interesting rock art sites in the Southwest. A rugged trail begins at the visitor's shelter. It is about ½ mile long (1 mile roundtrip), and links many of the most interesting petroglyphs.
These petroglyphs (literally rock carvings) were made by a group of prehistoric Americans that archaeologists refer to as the Jornada Mogollon (see site history). The pictures were made with stone tools by removing the dark patina on the exterior of the rock. The patina is formed through oxidation.
Some of the petroglyphs were made expediently, by simply scratching through the patina to the light inner layer of the rock. Other were painstakingly created by pecking through the patina. This was done with two rocks used like a hammer and chisel.
While we know how the petroglyphs were made and are fairly certain of who made them, we are much less sure about why and what they
mean. Many believe that the petroglyphs are picture writing, with each one representing a word or thought. Together, they may relate a story, an idea, or directions to
travelers. One method researchers are using to attempt to understand this rock art is to compare it to similar Pueblo Indian and Mesoamerican Indian symbols.
For example, goggle-eyed beings and horned beings appeared in almost all Jornada Mogollon sites. This being is thought by some scholars to be the Jornada version of Tlaloc, the Mexican rain god. Other scholars disagree, that there is any connection between Jornada Mogollon and Mesoamerican rock art. They believe the Jornada Mogollon rock art and religion developed independently.
The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site site is located 17 miles north of Tularosa, New Mexico and 28 miles south of Carrizozo, New Mexico on U.S. Highway 54. Turn east at Three Rivers, onto County Road B30, and follow signs for 5 miles on the paved road.
Text from Guide to Three Rivers Petroglyph Site - Las Cruces Field Office of BLM.