Sheer cliffs announce Petroglyph Point. The fence here protects Native American rock art that has been carved into the light-colored tuff rock.
It is easy to understand why the Modoc Indians of the Tule Lake Basin and earlier peoples that lived in the area would have considered Petroglyph Point a holy place. High cliffs shoot up from the ground producing a mesa-like structure that once stood as an island in Tule Lake. The island-mesa was created when lava flowed into the lake from a vent beneath the surface. When the red-hot rock met the cool water, it caused a massive explosion that sent volcanic ash shooting into the sky. Returning to the surface, the ash settled into layer upon layer of tuff, a soft volcanic rock that was ideal for carving. Early natives would climb into boats made of reeds and row out to the cliffs where they would use rocks and sticks to carve their messages.
Once surrounded by water, Petroglyph Point is today surrounded by farmland. The dark shadow is caused by the cliffs where the rock art is located. (Google Map)
Another view of the cliffs. Other peaks are shown in the distance. This is arid land and the extensive farming depends upon irrigation. There is an ongoing battle over water rights between the farmers and the Native Americans. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Looking up. Numerous birds nest in the cliffs.
Such as these cliff swallows.
When Peggy and I traveled to Petroglyph Point this summer as part of our visit to Lava Beds National Monument, it was no longer an island. Farmers had reclaimed the land by draining much of the lake. It was still impressive, however, as was the rock art left behind by the hundreds of generations of Native Americans who had rowed out to the island on a sacred quest. Some of the 5,000 petroglyphs may be up to 6,000 years old. Sheer numbers make this one of the most extensive collections of Native American rock art in North America. It’s definitely worth a visit.
This photo by Peggy gives an idea on just how many petroglyphs are located along the tuff wall. The rock art was basically as high as the Modoc Indians could reach from their boats.
A close up of the above panel.
While much of the rock art features geometric forms, this is definitely an insect, complete with feelers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And another insect!
There are numerous examples of what appears to be counting along the wall. I assume that this had to do with keeping track of time, but who knows.
Several of the petroglyphs made us smile. I quickly designated this as Mr. Arrowhead.
I also found this running fellow humorous, although it might have been two streams running into a lake, or… Interpretation is often up to the viewer.
And what do you make of the square, bug-eyed alien? Note another bug off to the left.
I really liked this scenic portrait of the sun and the mountains. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This seemed totally at odds with the other petroglyphs, leading me to wondering if it’s a modern contribution.
A Bonus: When I was going through our photos of Petroglyph Point, I came upon this photo I took of Peggy in one of the lava tube caves I featured in my last post.
Plus another photo from inside the lava tube. Magical.
NEXT POST: Sticking with the petroglyph theme, I will feature Native American rock art from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.