Three Rivers Petroglyphs: Art Outdoors

fly to paradise

The second part our Independence Day travels involved leaving the popular mountain towns filled with happy Texans, and finding our way down to where the mountains meet the desert at a place called Three Rivers.  The music below goes well with this blog post of the desert glyphs.

a fertile Sierra Blanca field

sweet lizard look

keystone markings

Three Rivers Petroglyphs is on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The BLM is increasingly centering management strategies on conservation and low impact recreation.  Here human activities emphasize appreciation of cultural heritage and diverse ecosystems.  It is a wilderness for pondering strategies for sustainable development.


three rivers monsoon

sotol shot

There are two camping areas at Three Rivers.  One is in the desert just off hwy 54 next to the visitor center for the petroglyph trails.  The other is 7 or so miles up the road where the river comes down out of the mountains.  We stayed at the upper one.  It was quiet and uncrowded.  Desert vegetation converges with grassy foothills speckled with juniper and piñon pine.  Our campsite was cozy with a flat pad for our tent and a sheltered picnic table.  We stayed dry in the shelter when the afternoon monsoon rains came.  A nearby trail led to the vista points pictured above.  A surreal blend of flowering sotol, budding cholla, and fragrant piñon pines made up the landscape.  We cooked with the camp stove and gathered wood and lit a campfire.  The flames danced and the sky light disappeared from behind the gray monsoon clouds.

cholla crown

campsite before sunburst

The next morning I awoke before dawn and hiked upriver into the canyon folds of the White Mountains.  Ponderosa pines grow tall next to the river.  I saw no one.  Deer and cougar certainly frequent this region.  After breakfast we broke camp and headed down to the petroglyphs and walked out on the rocks under the early July desert sun.

zebra sheep


big horn with three arrows

There are over 21,000 petroglyphs that visitors can explore in the natural open amphitheater of the outdoors.  Animals are common subjects, bighorn sheep, lizards, and birds.  Geometric symbols abound.  The variety suggests interchange with many cultures, hunting, agriculture.  Human faces and forms were as interesting as ever to these petroglyph artists.  You feel original excitement discovering the glyphs haphazardly as you amble on the trail and through rock gardens.  The glorious setting, day unfolding, breeze, birds, plant fragrances, great spaces across the valley between ranges under the clear Southwest skies and hot sun, takes you away.


circles and face

corn man

You have to hop around and leap across rock tops to get the best angles.  There are engravings everywhere.  The experience was engrossing and stream-like.   The context and continuity of the natural settings make it possible for these renderings to communicate across the threshold of space and time.  The air bristled with anticipation as the hot sun began stirring the monsoons.




The subtleties and nuances take time to digest.  The canvases of volcanic boulders were used to accentuate lines and features.  Art grafted to nature’s palette.  Human earth expression.

human horns hands

corn man two

monsoons ballooning over Sierra Blanca

Pay close attention and things open up for you.  It is not like an art museum where you are told what to look at.  Three Rivers petroglyphs is crafted in concert with the unbridled wild.  The art is uncontained and unbounded.  The are no lamp lights.  Sun and shadow.  The folds of rock hold pictures at every angle in different layers and dimensions.  It is one of the most interesting places I’ve been to.  There is much to learn.  These petroglyphs set a story tone that is gentle, intriguing, mysterious.  Like a good book each time you go back (we’ve been twice now) you discover something more.  What unique, complex and subtle creations.  Thank you BLM and New Mexico for conserving this heritage so we can listen, observe, explore, and discover.

signals abound



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