Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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from the trenches
Off the Grid Volume 61 Number 6, November/December 2008
by Glenna Dean

Former New Mexico state archaeologist Glenna Dean's favorite overlooked spot is the Three Rivers petroglyph site.

The Site: "Three Rivers is one of those sites where the average visitor can actually make a new find," says Dean. The 50-acre rock outcrop in southeastern New Mexico is covered with some 20,000 petroglyphs depicting humans, animals, and abstract designs. But the sheer number of them means it's a sure bet that not all have been catalogued by archaeologists. "Walking around the site, you really get the sense that you are on the verge of making a discovery," she says. Not many public sites in the Southwest allow visitors direct access to petroglyphs, but at Three Rivers, "there's nothing to keep you from getting up close and personal with some amazing images."

The Artists: The petroglyphs are the handiwork of the Jornada Mogollon, a people who lived between about A.D. 900 and 1400. They were culturally related to the Mimbres, a group famous for its painted ceramics. The petroglyphs at Three Rivers share some stylistic similarities with both figural and abstract designs that decorate Mimbres pottery.

If You're Going: About a 3.5-hour drive from Albuquerque, the Three Rivers site is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which also maintains a campsite nearby.
   A half-mile trail along the outcrop passes many of the glyphs, and a shorter one leads to the ruins of a Mogollon pueblo. "The footing is uneven and there are snakes," says Dean, "but if you use a little common Western sense you should be fine."