Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs along the trail

The Three Rivers petroglyph site contains one of the most numerous collections of petroglyphs in the nation. Of the various petroglyph sites in New Mexico we have visited, this site has by far the most. BLM says that there are over 21,000, and many are in excellent condition.

In addition to the petroglyphs, you also get great views of Sierra Blanca and the Tularosa basin.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Bureau of Land Management; Las Cruces Field Office
Official URL:BLM page for the hike
Region: South-central; Sacramento mountains.
start: 5009ft; 1527m end: 5009ft; 1527m
min: 4980ft; 1518m max: 5088ft; 1551m
elevation gain/loss: 78ft; 24m.
Elevation information from GPS data.
Length: 1.16mi; 1.87km.
surface: mixed gravel/rock
condition: Well-maintained
ease of following: easy
obstacles: none
The trail is interpreted. Pick up a guidebook at the trailhead.

The trail is not suitable for wheelchairs or strollers.

Fee: $5.00.
Season: All year. Snow might affect the ability to hike this trail, but I would not expect it to last long. Spring can be windy with blowing dust. Summer is likely to be hot.
Dogs: Unknown.
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The Three Rivers BLM campground is right at the trailhead.
Trailhead facilities: flush toilet(s), picnic area, trash can(s), water.
Hike attractions: history, scenery, year-round access.

When we hiked it:


Waypoint Type Description
3RIVERSCampgroundThree Rivers Petroglyph site campground and trailhead
3RIVERSSHRTrail pointShelter at official end of Three Rivers Petroglyph trail


Geohack online map list

Paper maps:

Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Tularosa BLM 1984 1:100000 Y Public Lands Information Center (purchase)
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

On US 54 between Carizozo and Tularosa, between mile posts 96 and 96 is a large sign indicating a turn to the east on Otero county road B030, also known as Three Rivers Road and forest road 579. Take this road about 5.3 miles. At the sign indicating that the petroglyphs are 0.25 miles to the left, turn and the road dead-ends at the petroglyph campground and parking lot.

The trailhead is under the shelter pictured at the right.


About the hike:

Diana Northup on the trail
From the trailhead, you walk on the gravel trail and then pass through a pedestrian gate. Climb a slight hill, and you get to a bench with binoculars. This site (as well as much of the trail) would be an excellent one for evening or morning photos. From here, you can see White Sands gleaming in the distance. In this photo, if you look at the large version you can just see the bench and binoculars at the end of the trail (under the 2005 in the copyright statement).
The trail divides several times. Take one side on the way out, and the other on the return trip.
trail dividing
roadrunner petroglyph
One of the early petroglyphs is this roadrunner.
This circle with dots motif appears frequently. I wonder what it represents.
petroglyph of a + in a circle surrounded by dots
bighorn sheep petroglyph
Animals obviously were important to the people who left their mark. Here is a bighorn sheep.
Many areas are quite dense with petroglyphs.
lots of rocks with petroglyphs
bighorn sheep with arrows in it
Hunting is portrayed by this bighorn sheep with arrows in it.
This is an early picture of someone wearing earrings.
someone wearing earrings
petroglyphs and the trail
The petroglyphs are right beside the trail.
When you reach this shelter, you are at the end of the official hike. The guidebook says that there are fewer petroglyphs after this. However, a ranger said that many of the best and most intricate are beyond this point. We will re-visit and continue on next time.
shelter at the end of the official trail
petroglyphs and mountains in the east.
While you are looking at the petroglyphs, you might look up once in a while to see the mountains in the distance (both east and west).

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Sat May 13 15:37:10 2006 Chuck from Alamogordo, NM said:
One of my favorite short hikes. Every visit finds petroglyphs we have not seen before. I especially enjoy bringing relatives here that live in the East. About halfway through the walk they realize the only sounds are those of the wind and their steps on the ground. A joy to both the eyes and ears.

On Thu Dec 28 13:18:32 2006 Joni Foster and David McKenzie from Apache Junction, Arizona said:
I've been to Three Rivers three times, in 1999, 2001, and just a few weeks ago in 2006. I find new petroglyphs every visit, and take a lot of photos. You'll be pleasantly surprised if you keep in hiking past the end of the trail. I've heard the BLM in Las Cruces has a catalog of sorts of all of the writings or markings. There are two books written by Joe Ben Sanders which purport to interpret their meaning, which are very interesting. I don't know if his work is recognized as authoritative. After leaving, I always wish I had allowed more time here. I am concerned that there appears to be modern day graffiti being added, and the area appears in the last 6-7 years to have suffered from a number of careless visitors trampling all over the writings and even moving rocks. This place is definitely worth the visit; take plenty of film! You will see more if you avoid the direct sun and go in morning or afternoon. New restrooms are onsite, and there are picnic shelters and grills.

On Mon Apr 16 17:03:40 2007 Sharon from Canada said:
Hi There,

Just traversing the ethernet... stopped by to look at your beautiful petroglyphs... I was born in a place called Three Rivers...South is just as beautiful. The Cross and Circle in your photograph is a way of orienting yourself with the rising and setting measures 24 hours. I have an apple tree in my garden, the base of which is my sundial. I have set my stones according to the summer equinox. Same principal.

Have a wonderful love filled life3

On Wed Apr 25 20:52:27 2007 Monica from Tucson, Az said:
I visited three rivers in March and loved it. I arrived after a small storm had went thru about an hour before sunset. The air was cool and crisp, and the sights beautiful. I was amazed at the petroglyphs. I have been to many sites in Az surrounding areas, but these petroglyphs were beautiful. I loved the mimbres style that was prevalent. I took many pictures at sunset and camped the night and took the full hike the next morning. I cant wait to go back!

On Mon Jun 23 09:10:13 2008 Lyn from TULAROSA, NM said:
My husband and I are the Camp Hosts at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site. We encourage more people to come out and visit the site. The rocks are beautiful and we enjoy being here very much.

We are saddened by the disrespect being shown to something that has so much history to it. Thanks to good people like you, we have hopes in keeping them from getting more graffiti on them.

Come to see us anytime. We enjoy teaching people about them.

On Thu Jun 26 18:57:05 2008 Heidi McCord from TX. and N.M. said:
Lyn, Camp Host...

My husband, our Chocolate Lab Camper, and I, love to camp out.

We have a small cabin in Ruidoso, and want to Tent Camp (we have an RV but it is too expensive to drive).

Does the three Rivers Petroglyphs have any trees, maybe a stream?

Can you suggest a Tent Camping spot in the trees, with a stream or river we can fish at, that is say no more than 100 miles from Ruidoso? We prefer camping Monday to Thursday, to stay away from the rowdy crowds.

Thanking you in advance,


On Sun Jul 6 09:46:07 2008 Mike from Alamogordo, NM said:
My son and I took this hike on July 5, 2008 early in the day. It was fantastic! The area is a site to behold and the scenery is beautiful.

The drawings and carvings are right there for you to see and touch. It almost feels like you are back in time.

I would recommend this site o everyone. It is extremely clean and easy to get to.

On Wed Mar 4 16:11:19 2009 Joe Ben Sanders from BentTularosa, NM said:
The glyphs at Three Rivers are ancestral Hopi. Once one is intimate with Hopi religious beliefs and clan histories, then the Mogollon become Hopi. I have authored numerous books for sale at the Three Rivers Trading Post, including a 160+ page book titled Three Rivers Self Guide Tour Book. It was out of ignorance we called these ancestral Hopi as Mogollon, and it will be the Three Rivers site that leads us out of this ignorance., just as the word or term Rock art is wrong too. We have a long haul ahead of us, and many closed minds to overhaul as well. I have created Three Rivers Petroglyph Services as a result and give tours all the time. Join me and make an informed opinion. Thanks Joe Ben

On Thu Mar 5 11:22:11 2009 Joe Ben Sanders, Principal Investigator, SNMAS,Inc from Tularosa and Bent, NM said:
I am a professional archaeologist born and raised in southern NM. I have spent 33 years at the Three Rivers site and have written numerous books about the Three Rivers site and the local archaeology and history, besides the 3000 plus reports my company, Southern New Mexico Archaeological Services, Inc. has produced for energy companies. It took 26 years before I recognized the Mogollon as Hopi, and it was by their glyphs I found out. The petroglyphs at Three Rivers are better understood if one gets a bunch of Hopi books about their religious beliefs and clan histories and reads the dickens out of them. Do not think it is easy to interpret glyphs, for it is not. It takes a passion that I got that I have never seen in another glyph reader. The glyphs at Three Rivers are in linear sequences, and some of the stories in the linear sequences are hundreds of feet long and involve hundreds of panels and are mnemonic devices, or memory devices that remember one of key elements of a story.

The following books are recommended The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters, TRUTH OF A HOPI: Stories Relating to the Origin, Myths and Clan by Edmund Nequatewa, The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions by Harold Courlander, and Hotevilla: Hopi Shrine of the Covenant: Microcosm of the World by Thomas Mails. I have written a 160+ page book titled Three Rivers A Self Guided Tour Book and it is for sale at the Three Rivers Trading Post and Gallery near the entrance to the site on the highway. Hope this helps others enjoy the glyphs more, and so we can repatriate the Hopi with their so called "Mogollon" ancestors.

On Tue Sep 15 19:40:03 2009 Dan & Gale from Harpers Ferry, WV said:
We were there in late August 2009. Met Bruce the site volunteer ranger. He was very informative, and we had a good hike up to the site. Hot at 9 AM, and got hotter as we climbed up, but it was all so interesting. We had plenty of water to sip on while checking out the many glyphs, most of them were easy to view and investigate.

Good rest rooms, water fountain and a few shade trees make it a nice place to visit. We were there on our motorcycle and were able to park it in shade while we hiked.

The trail guide was helpful and informative.

On Sat Jan 15 00:12:58 2011 THERESA LANGLOIS from COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VIRGINIA said:

On Sun Oct 23 12:24:52 2011 Anonymous from Somewhere said:
the trail here is rugged, not for wheelchairs or strollers, no dogs are allowed on the trails, only in the camping area on leases. we have modern restrooms and camping, two rv sites with water and elec and dry camping spots. winter hours are 8 till 5 p.m. a host is on site.

On Tue Jan 3 23:57:33 2012 Vladimir PetrovAnthropologist and Archaeologist MPhil from Kygryzstan, Bishkek said:
To the Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Dear colleges!

My name is Vladimir Petrov. I am a coordinator of the Rock Art Heritage Project and the student of the Central Asian University in Bishkek, Kirgizstan.

Nowadays my colleges and I write literary book “Whispers of History”. Our book we be dedicated to the prehistorically religious beliefs of the Stone Age people form all over the world. In our work, we focus our attention on comparative analysis of the Stone Age symbols (petroglyphs), intagliated by old man and scattered on the face of the Earth.

Today we have already received many materials from people who could not stand aside of our request. We also collected the great bank of petroglyphs’ photos from Central Asia and Asia Minor, Russia, Middle East, Europe and Africa, but it is not enough for our work. We need materials covering all continents.

From Internet, I know about MThree Rivers Petroglyphs. I could find some petroglyphs in Internet, too. They are very interesting and a good material for our book, because all of them are the unique historical and anthropological artifacts – anthropomorphic sun people, the so-called “Gods”, solar symbols, animals and many more.

Book publication is under Rock Art Heritage Program, financed by Aga Han Foundation and OSCE Centre in Bishkek. Book will be publishing in English, Russian and German. Total run is 20000 copies. Clearly, it would be useful if your Museum could present good photos of the Three Rivers Petroglyphs petroglyphs for publication.

I should be grateful if you could send us some photos of the Three Rivers Petroglyphs and any materials about their history. Of course, we could take some photos from Internet, but we also want to observe all authors’ rights. We guaranty all authors’ rights. The second problem is the quality of these photos is not enough for good publication. We need fails more than 2 Mb.

In exchange for your materials, we can include official information for tourists about Maturango Museum and its exposition to our book. It would be a good promotion for your Museum abroad among scientists and tourists.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Yours faithfully

Vladimir Petrov

Anthropologist and Archaeologist


On Wed Jan 11 09:50:22 2012 Frank Panek from Downers Grove IL said:
Mr. Petrov: I'm planning a photo trip to the Three Rivers site in the next few month or two, and I would be willing to provide images for use in your Rock Art Heritage Project. Please contact me ( ) with more details about this important work.

On Fri Jan 13 18:24:57 2012 Meena Haribal from Ithaca said:
Hello all,

I visited Three Rivers two weeks ago (Dec 27 2011). I was fascinated by the drawings. I have taken lots of picuters. I have uploaded some of the bird pictures on my Picasa website.

I would be happy share my pictures for the book or for any other interesting studies. I would love to know what those birds were. Based on some of the shapes, I can only guess as to what they are.


On Sun Mar 25 19:09:31 2012 Mike from Valley Center, Kansas said:
My son and I just visited for the second year in a row. (March 2011 and 2012) The petroglyphs are endlessly fascinating and the location is beautiful. The current host, Mr. Encinas, shared his passion for the site with me and suggested some books to learn more. He told me where to find them in Tularosa and I am reading them now.

Check out the north pointing spur on the north end of the main ridge. Some of my favorite glyphs are there, like the man inside the fish. If you are tempted to go on north to the lone hill the spur points to... we didn't find much of petroglyphs, but we sat for a while on a ledge near the top and just soaked up something about the place that will last us a good while.

On Sun Mar 25 19:09:58 2012 Mike from Valley Center, Kansas said:
My son and I just visited for the second year in a row. (March 2011 and 2012) The petroglyphs are endlessly fascinating and the location is beautiful. The current host, Mr. Encinas, shared his passion for the site with me and suggested some books to learn more. He told me where to find them in Tularosa and I am reading them now.

Check out the north pointing spur on the north end of the main ridge. Some of my favorite glyphs are there, like the man inside the fish. If you are tempted to go on north to the lone hill the spur points to... we didn't find much of petroglyphs, but we sat for a while on a ledge near the top and just soaked up something about the place that will last us a good while.

On Tue Jun 26 14:12:12 2012 Jerry Schmitz from Crowley, TX said:
This is a comment on the "circle and dot" motif photo. Polly Schaffsma, in her book INDIAN ROCK ART OF THE SOUTHWEST, makes a reference to this glyph. On page 235 she has a photo of the petroglyph and states that it occurs in various styles in Mesoamerica and may possibly refer to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl.

On Sun Feb 10 20:02:52 2013 ladyval from Alamogordo NM said:
Entrance fee is now 5.00 but well worth it.

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