“She told me today to go and explore and I was happy to hear that.” ~ Dave Lolkema

A buddy of mine just welcomed a baby girl to his family and ever the dutiful man has been tending to his wife and new baby.  Regardless of life events, however, an adventurer must roam, even if just for the day.  When time is at a premium an exploration takes on an element of precision and Dave proceeded head first with a mission to try to photograph a primitive ear of corn, the kind with only eight rows of kernels (like in this blog post), cultivated by the ancestral people of Mexico and the American Southwest.  Below is what he discovered on his quest, written in his own words.

Peña Blanca Rock Shelter
By David Lolkema
Photos by David Lolkema

I found out not too long ago about the Peña Blanca rock shelter and figured today would be a good day to check it out since the area is only 20-30 minutes from where I live. I have not been out in the New Mexico back country for a few weeks due to my wife just giving birth to our new baby girl on March 31st. I’ve just been hanging around the house and helping her with things she needs. Today she told me to go and explore and I was happy to hear that.

The research I did online about Peña Blanca mentioned that the Peña Blanca rock shelters are the site of the earliest known cultivated corn in the United States, a primitive variety with eight rows of kernels. I know that the day would be great for me if I could find an ancient corn cob to photograph.

The drive out there wasn’t too bad and I enjoyed just being out in God’s country again. The directions I was able to get online were somewhat vague on how to get to the area to start the hike. I did a little driving around and was able to find an area to park in that was a little over a mile from the Peña Blanca Wilderness study area.

Peña Blanca Rock Shelter

What was mentioned online about the Peña Blanca rock shelter was the main shelter that had the numerous grinding holes. I was unable to find any documentation in regards to pot sherds, which I did find.

Pot Sherds at Peña Blanca

Nor was there any mention of how many rock shelters you can explore in the area. I must have gone through a dozen or more shelters that were in the vicinity of the main one. I was surprised to see that many shelters in a generally small area like this.

No mention of any pictographs at these rock shelters is mentioned online either and I was able to find a few by exploring the area. I actually had given up hope on finding any writings in all honesty due to the fact that the majority of the rock shelters did not have any. It wasn’t until I was ready to leave and head back to my car that I decided to check an area that was on the opposite side of the main Peña Blanca rock shelter and I was glad I did. The pictos are somewhat faded, but you can still see to some degree the archaic designs that are represented in black, orange, and red.



Maybe there is a reason that these writings aren’t mentioned in the online write ups I read. Either they did not know or maybe they just want to keep the area a secret so it can still remain somewhat pristine. It’s anybody’s guess on that one.


What I did not find was an ancient corn cob, but what I did find more than makes up for it.


imageDave Lolkema is a New Mexico based explorer.  His love for archaeology and the outdoors started with explorations of mine and Native American sites near 29 Palms, California where he was stationed as a Marine.  He has also variously lived in and explored Mt. San Jacinto, Morongo Valley, San Diego, and the Philippines.

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