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


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Tularosa BLM 1984 1:100000 Y from Amazon (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.

Add your comments about the Three Rivers Petroglyphs hike.

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