Pass the Datura, Please… I Want to Make a Square.

Geometrical forms are often found in rock art, and the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is no exception. The body of this horse with its ears back and tail sticking out is filled with squares. I’m wondering if its pose is a result of eating Datura, whose seed are represented by the two circles. Or maybe it just spotted the horse-sized snake off to the right. My ears would be back and tail sticking out too.


Datura, one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite flowers to paint, is a strong hallucinogen, and dangerous. Shamans of the western US often used it to induce visions and travel on their journeys into other worlds. It seems quite likely that many of the stranger petroglyphs found at Three Rivers were inspired by its use. There is also a theory that many of the geometric patterns found in rock art sites throughout the world are hard-wired into the brained and are discovered through the use of hallucinogenic drugs.

Datura, also known as Jimsyn Weed.

Datura, a beautiful but dangerous plant is also known as Jimson Weed. I took this photo along the American River Parkway in Sacramento.

I’ve always been amused by how Datura earned its Jimson (Jamestown) Weed name. Apparently the residents of Jamestown fed the plant to British soldiers in 1676 who had been sent to quell a rebellion by the townsfolk. One of the soldiers spent his time trying to blow a feather up into the air while another sat naked in a corner and made faces at them. The other soldiers were similarly effected.

Following are a few of the petroglyphs we found at Three Rivers that featured geometric forms and were perhaps inspired by the use of Datura.

This particular petroglyph at Three Rivers reminded me of a spiral galaxy. Maybe it was supposed to.

This large petroglyph was laid out like a maze.

Another large rock petroglyph. This one of squares with one of the squares filled with further squares.

Another maze like petroglyph. Following the spiral takes you to the center of this large circle.

Lacking the geometric look of the above petroglyphs, this may be a ladder leading down to a map of personal crop sites. Many Native Americans lived in cliff dwellings and would travel by ladder to farms below. I wonder if the footprint isn’t saying ‘walk this way.’

Here’s a pattern that you might expect to find in a modern-day Navajo blanket.

Okay, I’m thinking Datura here. The wavy lines might actually represent a river, but the eyes? (On the top maps I use backpacking, they would represent two depressions in the land.)

Circles are common at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. This may represent the sun.

And I conclude my posts on Three Rivers with what might be another candidate for Datura influence.

NEXT POST: Continuing my series on petroglyphs, I’ll travel up to Sego Canyon in Utah. Since I am out backpacking in the Sierra’s,  I’ll respond to comments on my return.
















21 thoughts on “Pass the Datura, Please… I Want to Make a Square.

    • Thanks. I was first captured by the flower from Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and then I began seeing it along roads throughout the Southwest. Finally, I found it along the American River Parkway in Sacramento and began photographing it. It really is beautiful. –Curt

    • Quite likely, Linda. I have photos like those as well. I remember being quite surprised to find a number of the plants growing right at one of the entrances to the American River Parkway in the heart of Sacramento. I visited the plants several times to capture them in different stages. –Curt

  1. Tripping on Datura could be nasty. They say that even rhubarb when taken in large quantities can be bad. Remember the story of the wife who fed her husband apple pips for his birthday. He liked to nibble on them when eating his apple. However, she saved up a cup full of them. He promptly keeled over and died after eating his apple pips.

    • And certainly there is a lesson, here. Be moderate in eating apple pips! 🙂 Datura is much scarier. Best to leave it alone, unless, you just happen to be a shaman. Kids try it out on occasion. Bad news. Even gardeners have ended up in a hospital by handling it, if my memory serves me. –Curt

    • I found the theory that we are programmed to reproduce geometric designs quite interesting, Juliann. On the other hand, there are numerous geometric forms in nature that may inspire the designs. Glad you enjoyed them. –Curt

  2. Sir, you describe the petroglyphs this “Okay, I’m thinking Datura here. The wavy lines might actually represent a river, but the eyes?” Can you explain to me where I can find this? That area is so big…

    • Magnificent big, Ren. It has to be one of the greatest petroglyph sites in the Southwest, which has so many. The petroglyph was along the main trail, exactly where I don’t remember. I often hike off the trail and check out the different sides of rocks for hidden treasures! Thanks for your comment. —Curt

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