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Native American Petroglyphs in the Rio Grande Gorge – My Shot of the Day April 7, 2014

native american petroglyphs

It is odd how some things just fall into place sometimes.

Saturday evening I was at the Taos Mesa Brewery for the first anniversary celebration of our new El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  Outside we had typical northern New Mexico spring weather.  A storm was snowing, raining, sleeting, hailing, graupel-ing (?!), blowing and casting lightning all around – all at once.

By chance I ran into two friends who, as rather youthful retirees, have spent the last few years working diligently to record the massive amount Native American petroglyphs.  It is no small task.  There are literally tens of thousands of Native American petroglyphs spread over several hundred thousand acres of northern New Mexico.  I’ve shown you some of them here and here.

These friends have invited me to join them many times but I’ve never been able to – just far too much going on!  As it so happens I finally had a day off in front of me and could join them down in the Rio Grande Gorge to scout out a number of 200-300 year old Comanche petroglyphs.  On the way home I dropped by the post office and there was a new Archaeology magazine in my mailbox – with an article….it so happens…about Comanche Petroglyphs in the Rio Grande Gorge.

Cool coincidence.

What is that?!?!

So what are you looking at in the main top picture above?

This petroglyph shows three warriors.  The central warrior (the one most clearly in the picture) is holding a shield and a recurved bow. He is probably an Apache.  The smaller warrior to the right is probably Comanche.  The very small warrior to the left is probably a Puebloan warrior.  The Apache warrior and the Puebloan warrior are shooting arrows at one another.  The hash marks between them are most likely a count of arrows shot by each one.  Clearly the Apache is out-shooting the Puebloan warrior.

native american petroglyphs

The Comanche petroglyphs in this area are very lightly scratched into basaltic rock.  It is really hard to do them justice with a camera.  The best way to see them is through detailed tracings made on paper.

The people that have undertaken this massive effort to record the Native American petroglyphs are also working with Comanche elders (some over 100 years old!) to interpret the meaning behind these works of art.  Many of them are maps that tell others how to get to certain meeting spots or places where an event (a dance, a ceremony) is to be held or to a place to camp or to help plan a raid.  Others show battle and hunting scenes; still others show teepees and camp sites and horse herds.   There are numerous teepee rings in the area.

Intermixed with all of the Comanche stuff are Archaic petroglyphs, Puebloan petroglyphs, carvings left by Spanish and Anglo cowboys and modern graffiti.  There is even a Mesoamerican- looking snake.

native american petroglyphs

The Comanche Empire

From the Archaeology article:

“they [the Comanche] controlled a vast amount of territory for almost two centuries, and at one point numbered some 40,000 strong…”


“…some scholars now argue that they Comanche nation had imperial ambitions, and say that it is no exaggeration to describe their story from the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century as the rise and fall of the Comanche Empire.”

The site we visited yesterday was on the western rim of Comancheria, the homeland that covered huge chunks of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.  It was probably an important spot that the Comanche people knew well and used as a base prior to raids or trading.

I’ll be heading back down there in a few weeks to show the kids this magnificent stuff.

Pick up the May/June Archaeology magazine and enjoy a fascinating read.  Do note however that some of the interpretations from the Comanche elders are slightly different than some of the interpretations in the article.  There is still more science to be done!

A few newsy items….

Later this week or early next I will launch a new website dedicated solely to my photography.  I’ve been working on that alot lately which is why I’ve kind of neglected Around the World in Eighty Years. Please be sure to check back in on that.  Also…

In case you missed it, please be sure to check out my first article for New Mexico Magazine: “Digging In: Learning to Love New Mexico the Hard Way”.  Also, I will be writing (and doing photos) for a new, free, online magazine entitled Vrai.  There are a few others on staff and every single one is rather darn impressive!  Please pop on over and sign up for twice-monthly email alerts from Vrai so that you know when new articles are out.

I’ll have another Costa Rica (#ecocostarica) post up this week.  Thanks for the support!

native american petroglyphs


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