Thunderbird and Eagle Rule the Skies… Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Close up of Bald Eagle

One look at this magnificent bird I photographed two weeks ago tells the story of why the eagle was regarded as sacred by Native Americans. This eagle is located at a wildlife sanctuary close to my home in southern Oregon. It was named Jefferson until it laid an egg. Now she is called Mrs. Jefferson.

Eagle petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

I think that the bird petroglyph on the left that Peggy and I found at Three Rivers is immediately recognizable as an eagle.

The mighty eagle may have ruled the skies of southern New Mexico but it was the Thunderbird that ruled the heavens. A flap of its wings would gather clouds and send thunder bouncing off the far mountains. Lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbird existed in numerous Native American and First Nation cultures.Peggy and I have found images  from New Mexico to Alaska.

Thunderbird petroglyphs at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

A pair of Thunderbirds decorate a rock at Three Rivers. Compare it with the First Nation totem pole below that Peggy and I photographed on Vancouver Island in Canada.

Totem pole Thunderbird on Vancouver Island

A First Nation totem pole Thunderbird Peggy and I found on Vancouver Island.

Petroglyph of a Thunderbird at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

I find this petroglyph of what I assume is a Thunderbird both strange and powerful.

Another version of a Thunderbird found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Another version of a Thunderbird found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Turkeys, roadrunners, and even ducks can also be found among the petroglyphs of the Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Petroglyph of roadrunner and snake at Three Rivers petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

A roadrunner and its dinner. This Three Rivers petroglyph shows a roadrunner with one of its favorite meals, a snake.

Possible bird head petroglyph at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Is this a petroglyph of a bird’s head with its beak stretching out to the left? If so, it must be another work of the Rembrandt of the Jornada.

Goose petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

This petroglyph strikes me as either a duck or goose. Note how the artist has taken advantage of the contour of the rock.

Turkey petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

A quickly pecked turkey?

Wild turkey on Upper Applegate River in southern Oregon

A backyard turkey. I caught this guy strutting his stuff to impress several hens who had gathered in our back yard. They ignored him.

Strange petroglyph from Three Rivers Petroglyph site in Southern New Mexico.

A really weird turkey? The head seems right but the clawed hands are something else. If this is a turkey, he has passed into the realms of the gods. On the other hand, if you have ever had a turkey attack you, as I did when photographing its chicks, this is a close approximation.

NEXT BLOG: What is a whale petroglyph doing in the desert?

8 comments on “Thunderbird and Eagle Rule the Skies… Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

  1. Kurt, the eagle photograph was stunning. The colors, focus and detail… and indeed, the first Americans had the wisdom to honor this magnificent bird. The Mrs.Jefferson story was hilarious. 🙂

    The petroglyphs were quite amazing. Some of the thunderbird etchings reminded me more of pteranondons. Did I spell that right?

  2. It’s only been a year or so since I learned that the original plan was to make the turkey the national bird. The wild ones are fine, but I think I prefer the eagle.

    Anyone who thinks the thunderbird has lost cultural significance wasn’t around to experience:

    1. The Ford Thunderbird of the 1950s
    2. Gallo Thunderbird in the 1960s (or Townes Van Zandt’s “Talking Thunderbird Blues”
    3. The Fabulous Thunderbirds (with or without Stevie Ray, they’re powerful stuff

    Personally, I think the people who left those thunderbirds on the rocks would have enjoyed the heritage that flowed from them. 😉

    • I suspect you are right. 🙂 and thanks for the info and links. I never owned a Thunderbird but I had a couple of mind expanding experiences with Gallo Thunderbird. The sermon I preached on the midnight sand of Big Sur in 1969 still reverberates in my head… as does the headache that followed the next morning.

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