Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

DAYS 99 – 100 Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, NM

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January 5-6, 2013

It’s finally 2013 on my blog!

After Vallecitos, we spent two days at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs and three nights with friends in Santa Fe. I flew to Boston just before Christmas and was there until January 4th. Chris stayed in New Mexico during that time.

At last, on the road again! The interlude in Massachusetts felt like someone had suddenly switched the channel of my life from a travel film to a situation dramedy, complete with a new location and a different cast of characters. Now the TV set had been returned to the original road movie.

I realized then that after ten years living on the west coast I have become, sadly, what I call a California Weather Wimp. The cold seems more penetrating, the snow more inconvenient, the icy ground more threatening. After resupplying in Albuquerque, we headed south, once again following the promise of warmer weather.

We were trying to institute a “zero tolerance policy” for camping in snow and cold. So far we were unsuccessful because, even though more southerly, we were still at relatively high altitudes and we had been enveloped by a massive cold snap that covered the entire southwest.

Staying at Vallecitos in the snow was one thing, with its indoor space, woodstove and hot running water. Camping in winter weather was quite another. Our objective on this trip was to spend as much time outdoors as possible. The camper, as great as it is, is small and not suited to 24-hour living. It’s a bit like staying in a walk-in closet that has a sleeping shelf.

Chris was sick of the cold and sick with a cold. He longed for warmth and sun as if these alone would cure his illness. Due to his constant coughing, I called him “The Coughy Man”, a pun on his obsession with coffee.

We stopped for the night at the BLM’s Three Rivers Petroglyph Site near Carrizozo, NM. Like many places, we were almost the only ones there. Although the weather was mild, we were discouraged by patches of snow that stubbornly resisted melting. We arrived too late to explore the petroglyphs so I resolved to see them first thing in the morning.

The night was cold. After waiting a while in bed for the morning to warm, I eventually climbed over Chris who was sleeping off his cold. The trail with the petroglyphs meandered along the ridge of nearby hills. Unlike the cliff or cave art we have seen before, this rock art is scratched onto scattered boulders  Some 21,000 petroglyphs have been identified in this area. As the path ascended the hill from the campground, images started emerging from the blackened flat faces of the stones. Many of these pictures are larger, more sophisticated and detailed, than markings at other sites. Human faces peered out as well as animals and birds. Geometric designs, both curved and angular, adorned the rocks. Many of the carvings were in very good condition and seemed fresh. Others were fading, losing the contrast between the black rock and carved lines.

The petroglyphs were carved in the rocks by the Jornada Mogollon people between about 900 and 1400 AD. The specific meaning and purpose of these have been lost. They are, in any case, expressions of their world view and a glimpse into another time and way of life. Many questions about the artwork arose for me. Which members of the community made the images? Was it both the young and the old, both men and women? Could anyone with an impulse and idea create a drawing there? Or did people make the petroglyphs only after a ceremony, vision or dream and with permission from the tribe’s shaman?

How did the village relate to the stone gallery? Did they visit it regularly or was it left alone to the spirits and the artists? Was it seen as a sacred temple? Was it a community bulletin board? Was it meant to communicate to ancestors and future generations? Were there rituals associated with the art? As far as I know, no one can answer these questions with any certainty. As an artist, I understand the urge to make pictures, the satisfaction in it, and the inexplicable magic in doing so.

There was another trail near our campsite that led onto the flat desert floor. It was the site of the ancient village, the home of the presumed creators of the petroglyphs. What is left are some depressions in the ground that are the vestiges of old house foundations dug into the earth. Two have been excavated. One is a round hole that once was the floor of a mud hut. Another site, from a later period, is rectangular and made of stone and shows the base of wooden support poles. Other than these two spots, the obvious evidence of centuries of village life has disappeared. This area was mysteriously abandoned about 1400 before the Spanish arrived, they left at the same time as the cliff dwellers near Sedona.

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