On the Rocks

After spending too much time at my computer and not enough exploring the expanses of the Land of Enchantment, I finally set off on road trip this past weekend, to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, north of Tularosa in the southern part of the state. I went as part of a Meetup group that explores historical and cultural sites around New Mexico, with an emphasis on being outdoors and hiking as much as possible. It was a bit of a crapshoot, committing to spend almost 12 hours with three total strangers, but the conversation flowed easily and Charles, the leader of the group, is a dedicated hiker with a lot of knowledge about the history and geography of the areas he selects for the group to explore. I’m looking forward to another adventure with this crew.

On this trip, we headed south on back roads (at least compared to the interstate), and I saw a lot of terrain I had never seen before. The landscape changed several times, moving through grasslands and patches of juniper. We went through the town of Encino, which, if not officially classified as a ghost town, could be. The Census Bureau says it has fewer than 100 people, but I don’t think we spotted any of them as we passed through. Nearby Vaughn (population 446) showed more signs of life, but it also had a lot of empty and dilapidated buildings along the main road. If I had been alone, I would have stopped to take pictures of some of the derelict structures; I’m thinking of a return photo expedition around sunset someday soon.

After a slight navigational error, we backtracked a bit and headed south toward Tularosa, passing through “historic” Carrizozo. The claim to historic fame seems to rest on the region’s ties to Billy the Kid (Carrizozo is the county seat of Lincoln County, where the Kid took part in the Lincoln County Wars and achieved his notoriety as an outlaw) and to Albert Fall, who played a significant part in the Teapot Dome scandal and owned a ranch in the area. (As you’ll see through the link, he has the dubious distinction of being the first presidential cabinet member ever convicted of a crime while in office.)

Finally we reached the petroglyph site, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The rock carvings were the work of the Jornada Mogollon, who came to the region around 900 CE. The Mogollon, whose name comes from a Spanish governor of colonial New Mexico, lived along what is now the U.S.-Mexico border from southeastern Arizona across New Mexico. They first settled in the region a little more than 2,000 years ago. In the Three Rivers areas, the Jornada left behind some 21,000 petroglyphs, depicting animals, crops, human features, and abstract symbols.

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Another guest at the site that day.

At the site, with the Sacramento Mountains to the east and the San Andres Mountains to the west, a short hike up to the rocks revealed carvings of different sizes. From the higher points, we could see in the distance what looked like snow, but was actually the White Sands National Monument (another trip for another day). We climbed over the rocks, took lots of pictures, then sat in the shade and talked about other sights to see in the future and trips the other members of the group had already taken together.

We took a different route back, which led us through the town of San Antonio, where signs indicated that the road could be closed, because of missile testing at the White Sands Missile Range. No tests that day, thankfully, and we reached I-25 just south of Albuquerque to begin the trip back to Santa Fe. It was a day of lovely weather, history, and good company; what more could you ask for?