Monday, January 4, 2010

Three Rivers New Mexico-Ghosts, Rattlesnakes, Petroglyphs, and Trains!

Our friends and artists Cameron and Pamela Blagg who we visited in Montana (Our Visit to the Blagg's) had told us they would be in New Mexico in December to give Sue Tassinari, their partner at their Art Gallery and Trading Post in the former Ghost Town of Three Rivers, New Mexico a little time off. As we were planning to be at my Mom’s in Albuquerque for Christmas, we figured we could fit a visit in. I love Ghost Towns and the history that surrounds them, so I couldn’t wait to get there.

As we drove past the Trinity Site where the world’s first nuclear bomb was detonated, the desert spread out in front of us for as far as the eye could see. I have always appreciated the stark beauty of the desert, but I’m thinking “not much of a place for an art gallery”! Much to our surprise, in the middle of this desolate landscape, Three Rivers jumped out of the desert and appeared like a shining oasis. This classic stucco New Mexico building with its jutting portico, exposed wood support beams, and bee hive shaped anteroom, just reeks of history. It has been everything from a Biker Bar, Restaurant, Post Office, Trading Post and God knows what else in its lifetime. The Blagg’s bought it in a severely run down condition, and have with the help of Sue and some of the locals, restored it to not only its former glory but a new state of beauty. Complete with an old schoolhouse, the town is a mere shadow of its former self. Once a bustling whistle stop, after the trains no longer stopped here for water, the town dried up and died.

Cameron greeted us with a big smile at the door, and we were soon parked out back with an absolutely stunning view of the snow-capped Sacramento Mountains. As it is winter, the trees that normally make the grounds surrounding the Trading Post green were barren, but from the pictures we had seen, you could tell that in the summer this place was gorgeous in that high desert sort of way.

The Blagg’s had invited us to stay as long as we wanted, which is a huge mistake when you are dealing with a couple of boondocking, Airstreaming, gypsies like us. After over 17.000 miles of traveling, I had some maintenance work to do, so we took them up on it. While we were here, we also wanted to do a little sightseeing, and check out the Three Rivers Petroglyphs Site in particular.

This area is known for its overly large rattlesnakes, but luckily it is too cold for them this time of year, so they were all hibernating. Sue told Kate some pretty good stories of her encounters with them. I like snakes, but prefer the non-venomous kind, and as I was about to spend the next couple of days lying on my back under the trailer, I was not too upset that they were nowhere to be seen.

Our arrival at Three Rivers had nearly doubled the current population here, and along with Cameron and Pamela, actually increased it five-fold from its normal high of one. As Cameron has been debating the installation of a new water system, we wondered if our arrival as terminally unemployed workers might somehow make the water project “shovel ready” and qualify the town for some much needed Obama Bucks! With a 40% unemployment rate (us), a few million bucks would go a long way here, and based on some of the other projects we have seen that have qualified, this would be money well spent.

As we settled in for our first night, we began to hear the trains. They started as faint ghostlike screams out on the desert and then rolled into long lonesome whistles and finally rocketed through the Airstream like an eight ball hammering into the corner pocket. It is a good thing we like trains, because they were frequent, long, and mighty close by. Having lived in a house in Bend for a short time that was so close to the tracks that over the years the framework of the house had actually gotten loose, the house would rock and roll like Elvis before he donned a white cape and got fat. So needless to say we were used to it, and it soon became part of the routine.

At the Three Rivers Petroglyphs site there are over 20,000 Native American Petroglyphs and I drove up to take some photos in the early morning light. As the first rays of the sun played across the rocks, I thought about the people who once lived here and created these works of art. What were their lives like? What inspired them to create these drawings? Was it a desert when they lived here? I later got a chance to chat with Joe Ben Sanders, a friend of Sue’s who is the premier expert on not just the petroglyphs in this area, but the history of all the native peoples and the settlers up through modern times. Joe is a true local, born and raised, and an unassuming gentleman who I never saw without his signature cowboy boots and hat. From his laid back country manner, you might think he drove trucks or raised cattle for a living, but Joe is a trained archeologist and I listened intently as he told me his theories about the Indians who once lived here. Joe has developed a somewhat controversial theory that the modern day Hopi’s are the descendants of these Indians, and bases it on years and years of studying the petroglyphs both here and throughout New Mexico. What most people see is a random scattering of drawings almost like graffiti, from a people who disappeared long ago. What Joe sees are the legends of the Hopi, still handed down today from one generation to the next. His passion for the subject and the area has spawned dozens of books on the subject, some of which are available at the Trading Post. You can see the Petroglyphs at my photo gallery on our website at: ……..

While we were in the area we took in the White Sands National Monument, the old mining town of Ruidoso, and Lincoln City, the hangout of Billy the Kid. We also stumbled across the ironically appropriate “Post Apocalypse Reclamation Center” in the nearly deserted downtown of nearby Carrizozo.

We ended up spending nearly two full weeks at Three Rivers as the Airstream repairs took longer then anticipated, and the hospitality and the ever-changing beauty of the desert were a joy indeed. If you ever find yourself on HWY 54 headed North out of Alamogordo (and who doesn’t!) stop by Three Rivers and say hello to our friend Sue. There is always a pot of coffee on, and as the two bikers who stopped by while we were there had heard, it is the best in New Mexico.

For more photos of the Petroglyphs and New Mexico CLICK HERE to visit our website.


  1. Love the visual you gave me of Elvis, and the thundering in my chest of a well-placed eight ball. Well done, John! Keep 'em coming.

  2. Thank you for bringing back memories from our trip last summer on our way to San Diego.
    We spent an afternoon at the Three Rivers Gallery when I first saw the sign for Espresso as we drove past and knew we just had to stop! And let me tell you.....Sue's coffee really is the best in all of New Mexico....AND beyond! In addition to a lovely afternoon spent in the gallery where we met Sue, a fascinating time strolling through the Petroglyph site, we also camped for the night(my first time!)nestled back in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca mountains. I agree John folks...when you find yourself driving on Highway 54 anyway, a rest stop at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Recreational Site in Tularosa, NM is a must! I'll be glad you did.