This will be my penultimate travel post, as I arrived back in Las Cruces and will be here until Saturday,when I return to Chicago for a week. (Next: a gastronomic visit to Paris.) I did the long drive from Española to Las Cruces in one day, stopping for a few hours at the fantastic Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in the middle of nowhere.
This is what the middle of nowhere looks like, with the Ceiling Cat RentalMobile pulled over to show the ambiance. I love driving through big expanses of desert; it relaxes my mind, which is normally in a state of constant worry about what’s going to happen next. On a drive like this, what’s going to happen next is simply more driving. At such times I feel a kinship with Neal Cassady, who was born to drive.
One thing you can do is see how many “spot the animals” signs you can find. So far I’ve seen deer, elk, bighorn sheep, cows, and humans.
I had lunch at the nearly nonexistent town of Carrizozo (population about 940). Before I took off that morning, I did some Googling and found that the town harbored one good restaurant: the Carrizozo Cafe. It’s a small cute place full of locals.
I asked the man who ran it what he’d recommend, and he said the smothered chicken burrito with rice and beans. I added green chile sauce. He asked if I also wanted pico de gallo and sour cream, and you know what my answer was.
Here it is: it’s simply the best burrito I’ve ever had, stuffed to the gills with hand-cut hunks of chicken breast. Oy, was I full! The standard of New-Mex food (i.e., Tex-Mex-style food with chiles) is very high, so that you can find a superb meal like this in the most unlikely places.
And on to Three Rivers, which I got in gratis with my “senior” America the Beautiful Pass, which gives me free admission for life to all federal recreation areas and National Parks and Forests. It cost me all of $25, a fantastic bargain. A year ago I heard they were going to raise the price, so I quickly ordered one. And, indeed, it’s gone up to $80—still a stunning value.
Here’s the Three Rivers entrance, a few miles to the east of Highway 54.
This ridge above the ranger station and campground is where most of the the petroglyphs are—there are about 21,000 in the area, making it one of the most important ancient Indian petroglyph sites in the world.
It was hot, but I was so fascinated by the drawings/carvings that I spent several hours in the sun without sunscreen, photographing the rocks. I got sunburned, but it was worth it. Here’s what Wikipedia says about this ancient art:
The petroglyphs are thought to be the product of the Jornada Mogollon people between about 1000 and 1400 AD. The site is protected and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.
The petroglyphs at Three Rivers were recorded during a six-year project by the Archaeological Society of New Mexico‘s Rock Art Recording Field Schools.
They can carbon-date pottery shards, but they can’t date rock carvings, so these fall within a span of about 400 years.
Petroglyphs are created by either scratching away at the surface of the rock with another rock, or using two rocks to hammer away the oxidized patina that makes the rock dark (the rock underneath isn’t yet oxidized, and so is light); they are not painted onto the surface. They won’t last forever, as the etchings will be abraded and eroded away, but these have, in the dry climate, lasted for centuries.
See if you can make out what they depict. Some images are obvious; others, like the dotted cross-circle above, are problematic, and the ranger told me that scholars still argue over their meaning.
This is clearly some kind of quadruped, but what? A pronghorn? An imaginary animal?
You can see a nice gallery of the petroglyphs here; they’ve all been recorded for posterity by the feds.
Another enigmatic circle of dots:
Your guess is as good as mine:
Perhaps the most famous image in the park: a bighorn sheep pierced by three arrows.
Another bighorn sheep:
This looks like an owl to me:
These are animals and footprints; I’m told the footprint at the extreme left is of a bear, and there’s supposedly a puma footprint, too, as well as an animal pierced by an arrow. The site was, I’m told, much wetter when these petroglyphs were made than it is now.
A human hand, which the ranger told me was genuine. Note that it has six fingers.
To me this looks like a lizard:
A geometric design:
Here’s a bunch of petroglyphs in situ; this is how they appear when you’re walking down the mile-long trail:
What is this animal?
My guess is birds:
And, of course, latecomers couldn’t resist making their own petroglyphs, like this 114-year old piece of graffiti. You can generally tell the few “new” ones from the old ones by the degree of wear on the drawing.
A view from the end of the trail:
The remains of an early house at the site. I’m not sure what it looked like, but this is the foundation:
Another few hours and I was back in Las Cruces. Knocking at the door, I got no reply (Bill was in the back yard), but finally Boris came to let me in:
Boris likes to hang out next to my daypack. Can you spot the cat?
One more post to follow, including local noms.