New Mexico: We Were Here at This Time

Let me take you on a journey through New Mexico- a journey through space (four places) and time (Ryan’s last three posts fit somewhere in between some of these). We start with Three Rivers Petroglyphs.

Two lovely volunteers at Fort Davis recommended this site to us after I shared my love of pictographs and Seminole Canyon with them. “You can see thousands of petroglyphs,” Ruth said nonchalantly from the passenger side of their golf cart. We were in.

When we got to the remote area between Alamagordo and Carrizozo, we met Peggy, a cheerful volunteer from Wisconsin. “Walk around the rocks, climb on them, interact with them, take your glasses off and look from different angles, go off trail (don’t tell my husband I said that ha! ha!)…”

Part of us was hesitant that this was the best method for preservation of these 21,000+ petroglyphs from the Jornada Mogollon people (900-1400 AD), but the other part of us really wanted to interact with these historical treasures. We opted for, look and climb, but don’t touch.

We found a lot of dot/circle motifs on our walk. Some researchers suggest the dots represent corn or population count. We think it might be something more astral. Whatever they may mean, the designs and motifs etched into the basalt were beautiful and thought-provoking.

The trail was only about a mile, but we were encircled by petroglyphs from the start. Each turn was a treasure hunt; a bare rock might display a work of art with only two curious steps.

We also saw a lot of animal designs. Some were clear (bird, scorpion, fish…), while others were left up to interpretation.

The image below of a bighorn sheep pierced with three arrows is probably the best known petroglyph at Three Rivers.

We also saw many masks and portraits. Some of them used the rocks in a way that made their work three dimensional.

We were amazed at every turn. It was the slowest mile we have ever walked by far. Because the area is still so remote today, it was easy to imagine these people engraving the basalt. Maybe they did it to pass the time or make the land they were passing through more beautiful. Or maybe they just wanted to simply say, “I was here,” marking their place in time under the stars of the infinite universe.

We had another stop to make in the area, but not before a short diversion to ZZQ, Peggy’s recommendation for the best bbq in the area. Ryan got some brisket and ribs, and I got some really delicious potato salad and cole slaw (three cheers for a mayonnaise lunch).

After regaining our energy, we headed to the ‘Valley of Fires,’ or ‘Malpais’ (“bad country” in Spanish- their term for rough barren landscapes). About 2,000-5,000 years ago, lava flowed from vents in the earth’s thin crust. The flow is 5 miles wide and 44 miles long; it is also one of the youngest lava flows in the Continental U.S.

The landscape was rough and barren, with sharp and jagged surfaces threatening to harm you if you stepped off trail. But was it “bad country?”

Though intimidating, it also carried life between the cracks in the lava. This juniper is estimated to be about 400 years old. The soil and water gathered in the cracks helped this plant grow in a seemingly unwelcoming place.

Sotol and prickly pear cactus also grow in cracks, depressions, and other cavities in the lava surface.

Things will grow in the most unlikely of places. Resiliency in nature- there’s a seed of wisdom in that, I think.

Once we made it to Albuquerque, we stopped at Petroglyph National Monument because we just can’t get enough.

This land was also created by volcano, and boasts the same basalt as Three Rivers, a perfect canvas for etching. But these petroglyphs were created much later, about 400-700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers.

Many of the petroglyphs were brighter, but we had to stay on trail, dissimilar to our experience at Three Rivers.

The view was different too, as the area sits on the outskirts of Albuquerque.

We enjoyed walking the trails, looking for art. I even came up with an alien story below. Please note, this interpretation is mine alone and not supported by the parks department (even though it should be because…aliens!).

Another distinguishing difference was the prevalence of hands.

Maybe they were recording their family or tribe. Or maybe, like a notch in a doorway, they were saying, I was here at this time. We can’t know for sure, but that’s the interesting part of petroglyphs- acceptance of the mystery.

As we walked along we saw a horned lizard pass.

We also saw a black tailed jackrabbit bound up and down the volcanic mounds with ease (can you spot it?).

Though the city of Albuquerque lies outside the entrance to this national site, the animals don’t seem to know or mind. They’re protected in their habitat because we protect them. The parks are so important for so many reasons, but this one hit me today. With every burrow and warren, footprint or bent branch, the animals say, I am here at this time. And I hope that unlike the makers of the petroglyphs, we never have to wonder what happened to them.

After our adventures in nature, it was time for another one. This time we would be on the outskirts of a city named Belen.

In the 60’s and 70’s, many people on the east coast bought land in New Mexico. They were promised communities, but most of these communities never ended up being built. My grandparents purchased a few acres in different areas outside of Belen. From the amount paid in taxes on the land each year (basically nothing), my family surmised that the land was still a desolate arroyo. And that was true for most of it, found exhausted and empty sitting between suburban communities. There were so many times during this leg of the trip that I wanted to call my grandpa or have my mom show him pictures and videos we were taking. It has only been two months since his passing, so there are still many moments that I forget he is even gone.

I wanted to find this land for my family. I don’t know why sagebrush filled land mattered, but it did.

When we turned into “Tierra Grande,” we were met by the sun setting over the mountains. The area is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and people have made homes here. Now almost certainly, my grandparents land sits somewhere uninhabited, likely on the other side of the “highway.” But the place is breathtakingly beautiful.

Ryan was the one who noticed that my grandparents had purchased five plots of land so many years ago, perhaps a dream for each of their four children. Maybe their investment didn’t go the way they wanted it to, but we have something beautiful to share, even if it’s only an image or idea.

4 thoughts on “New Mexico: We Were Here at This Time

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