Our first stop was to explore the unique sand at White Sands National Monument, which is located right outside of Las Cruces but takes you on a visual tour of the lands known as the White Sands Missile Range. It is the strong southwesterly winds which pile the sand up and push dunes into various shapes and sizes. We’re beginning to think that these winds are prevalent all of the time in this area since we, again were experiencing another windy day. As we drove into the monument grounds and drove as far as we could with the motorhome & Jeep before we decided that due to the weather it would not be advisable to take the loop road in. Because of that, our pictures of White Sands will be somewhat limited but we think you’ll get the picture of what is out here.
The 275 square miles of desert – also known as the Tularosa Basin – where it all began 250 million years ago is quite a geological wonder. At that time this area of the Southwest was covered by the shallow Permian Sea which included parts of present-day Arizona and New Mexico. What resulted was a rare form of sand known as gypsum, which is a common mineral in rocks all over the world. Water is the key ingredient necessary for gypsum sand to form. And although it is not obvious to those of us who visit the area, White Sands is actually a very wet environment – with the dunes at 100% humidity. So how does the sand stay put with the strong winds? They say it’s the shallow water table that acts like a glue holding the dunes in place. Amazing, isn’t it?
The site is located on BLM land and is called Three Rivers Petroglyphs. It is here that over 21,000 petroglyphs – known as rock art - were recorded by the Archaeological Society of New Mexico’s Rock Art Recording Field School. (That’s quite a mouth full!) Once you get on the trail, they are literally everywhere. Jeff took pictures of a mere 63 of them, but you could spend hours if you wanted. For us, we had fun hiking the one-mile trail of rock along the ridge with the San Andres Mountains to our west and the beautiful Sierra Blanca, rising to 12,003 feet, to the east on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation.
The individual pictures of rock art below are those that were marked on the trail which corresponded to the location map on the brochure that we were given. Finding others that weren’t listed was half the fun in our discovery of trying to determine what we had found.
|The circle and dot motif is prevalent at Three Rivers. Circle petroglyphs account for over 10% of the approximately 21,400 images that were found at this site. Researchers suggest that the dots represent corn or a population count.|
|Masks are used by many cultures in their religious ceremonies to depict supernatural beings. Jornada Mogollon masks are similar to Pueblo kachina masks. Jornada style faces and masks are usually round with almond shaped eyes and triangular noses.|
|Jornada rock artists often cleverly incorporated natural rock features into their work. Here, a nodule on the rock is a bighorn sheep’s eye.|
|Often, their animal art is abstract to the point that they are not identifiable, but the bighorn sheep, like this one, is depicted realistically. Notice how the legs are bent as though it is running.|
|On this one, notice the animal track to the left – probably a mountain lion or a bear – very common. The animal appears to have been pierced by an arrow.|
|Tracks like these are usually identified as roadrunner or turkey tracks.|
|This image is probably the best known and most photographed petroglyph at Three Rivers. The body of this bighorn sheep is filled with a Mimbres-style geometric design and is pieced by three arrows.|
|Sometimes faces and masks are positioned on rocks in such a way that they are three dimensional. The effect is that the whole boulder has a life-like quality.|
|Bird petroglyphs are commonly in association with corn and cloud terraces, symbolic of rain. Here this bird is styled after a thunderbird.|
Water Canyon is a small box canyon run by the Forest Service and is definitely off the grid for conveniences – except for the pit toilets – if you need them. Thank goodness for our indoor plumbing in the motorhome! Hiking, bird watching and a popular spot for mountain bikers is what draws people to this area. It was still pretty cool at this elevation when we were here in early April, so we needed to get some warmer outerwear on when enjoying the great campfires - under the stars – that Jeff is always exceptional at creating. The smell of clear air, the scent of the ponderosa pines and the miles of stream water originating from the mountains was truly a gem. Life is good!
“Having somewhere to go is home, having someone to love is family, having both is blessing.” - Unknown