Thursday, April 23, 2015

Frontier Destinations: New Mexico

Seeking out new adventures is what we do when we are on the road.  There is always something new to experience by taking a new road and we want to make sure that we have our trusty camera ready to capture the moments.  We were not disappointed with the road that we travelled while continuing our journey in New Mexico.
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? 
After leaving the white sands of New Mexico, our next stop was to check out some pretty cool rocks.
The site is located on BLM land and is called Three Rivers PetroglyphsIt 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 view from the top was beautiful.  We stayed at the small campground available for two days as high winds in the afternoon once again were hindering travel for us and others.   This petroglyph site is probably one of the favorites because of its hands-on for visitors.  Created by Jornada Mogollon people between about 900 and 1400 AD these people lived in pithouse and adobe structures.  By the time the Spanish entered New Mexico in the 1500s , the Mogollon had mysteriously abandoned their pueblos in the area.  Archaeologists refer to these prehistoric inhabitants of New Mexico and southeast Arizona as the Mogollon.  Those who lived in the mountains are referred to as the Mimbres Mogollon while desert dwellers, such as those who lived here on the banks of Three Rivers are called the Jornada Mogollon.
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.

DSC03439 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. DSC03450

DSC03455 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. DSC03463

DSC03467 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. DSC03473

DSC03474 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. DSC03475

DSC03481 Bird petroglyphs are commonly in association with corn and cloud terraces, symbolic of rain.  Here this bird is styled after a thunderbird.
Our stay at Three Rivers to view the petroglyphs was something that we’ve never had the opportunity to experience.  With the winds subsiding after two intense days, we continued to our next destination in the Cibola National Forest – Water Canyon Campground.   Our friend, Kathy whom we had just met this past winter called us to recommend a site that she thought we would enjoy.  She had just been at this campground the week before and knew our rig’s size for accessibility.  It was a trip getting to the top, but Jeff did it!  Asked if he would do it again. . .the jury is still out!
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!

But like all good things, flexibility is key when you’re retired.  We had no phone and/or internet service to speak of but could send and receive text messages just fine.  It’s a good thing that we could as one of the messages from his brother back in Minneapolis was about Jeff’s Mom’s declining health.  At 95 years and 5 months, Dorothy is getting very near to the end of her run at living on her own.    We do believe it’s time to come down from the mountain and begin our trek back to the Midwest.   We have some miles to travel . . .
Hugs Red rose

“Having somewhere to go is home, having someone to love is family, having both is blessing.” - Unknown