Ancient Petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire State Park… The Desert Series

Petroglyphs found at the Valley of Fire State Park

Imagine walking around a corner and coming on this wall of petroglyphs. The red sandstone provided a dramatic canvas for early artists. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I first became aware of art from traditional cultures as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. The power of its simplicity and almost magical connection with another world caught my imagination– as it had artists such as Picasso and Matisse in the early 1900s. I collected several pieces and brought them home. Two of my favorites are the medicine mask and the bush devil shown below.

African medicine mask from the Ivory Coast.

African medicine mask from the Ivory Coast.

African Bush Devil from Liberia, West Africa.

African Bush Devil from Liberia

It was a natural transition for me to like and appreciate the rock art of Native Americans in the Southwestern United States. Found in hundreds of locations, it reflects several thousand years of cultural traditions. The arid climate of the Southwest combined with the fact that petroglyphs are carved in stone has allowed for their preservation. Only modern man with his graffiti poses a threat.

The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada hosts a significant collection of petroglyphs. The rock art was created by a culture known as the Basket makers (2000-1450 years ago) and the Anasazi/Ancient Pueblo group (1500-850 years ago). The Anasazi lived throughout the Southwest and were responsible for creating the impressive cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. They mysteriously disappeared around 1300, a fact which still has archeologists searching for answers.

The majority of the petroglyphs at Valley Of Fire are found at a site named Atlatl Rock by the park. The atlatl was a carved stick used for throwing spears and is featured in petroglyphs at the site. A steep, metal stairway leads up to the petroglyphs. Most tourists stop, climb the stairs and then hurry on their way. Walking a few hundred feet in either direction, which most tourists don’t do, leads to the discovery of hundreds of other petroglyphs– and Chuck. Following is a sample of what we found on our walk-about.

Petroglyph wall at Valley Of Fire State Park in Nevada.

A closeup of the petroglyph wall shown above. Can you find the dog?

Dog petroglyph at the Valley of Fire State Park.

The dog– or what I think is a dog, is located in the photo above on the left beneath what may be a river.

Petroglyph trees at Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

I have never seen such a direct representation of trees in petroglyphs. It is possible they are being struck by lightning. And check out the strange horned being on the right. He likely has shamanistic connections.

Petroglyph showing use of an atlatl at Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

I am intrigued by this petroglyph. The figure in the upper left is using an atlatl to launch a spear. But follow the line down. It starts from his left leg, passes through what appears to be a fox or coyote, and then becomes a big foot. How would you interpret this? On the left, you can see graffiti scratched on the stone by more recent visitors.

Petroglyph showing birth at Nevada's Valley Of Fire State Park.

Early rock artists could be quite graphic in their depictions. This shows a child being born. I like to think of it as an early day birth announcement: “Big Bear and Bird Song are proud to announce the birth of their first daughter…” Not sure what the bird is doing sitting on her head. Maybe it’s a singing telegram. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Big horn sheep petroglyph at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

Big horn sheep, from our experience, are the most common animal found on Southwest petroglyphs, which speaks to their importance, probably as a food source.

Donkey-like petroglyph at Valley of Fire State Park.

Given that donkeys weren’t around in North America when this petroglyph was created, I don’t have a clue what this animal is. The ears may be antlers, but even then… Any ideas?

Big horn sheep petroglyph with sun at Valley of Fire State Park.

The sun is shining down on this big horn sheep. What surprised me were the eyes. It is unusual to see eyes on an animal petroglyphs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Petroglyphs high on cliff at Valley of Fire State Park.

We often find petroglyphs perched high up on cliffs and marvel at the rock artists ability to climb up and do their work.

Petroglyphs on cliff at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

Here is a closer photo of the work they were doing, and my final photo for this blog.

NEXT BLOG: On to Red Rock Canyon.




Floating with My Head Underwater… Rafting Through the Grand Canyon

Beautiful views like this along the Colorado River would have been lost if efforts in the 50s and 60s to dam the Grand Canyon had succeeded.

I will feature two major sites in our journey down the Colorado River on my post today: the Anasazi Granaries at Nankoweap and the Little Colorado River. Then, unfortunately, I will have to put the trip through the Grand Canyon on hold.

Peggy and I leave our home in Southern Oregon on Sunday for a 32-day repositioning cruise on the Mediterranean plus visits with various family members. We won’t be back until January. My already organized wife tells me I have to get ready. That translates into, “You’ve run out of time, Curt.”

On Friday I plan to post photos featuring our property on the Applegate River. (It’s beautiful this time of the year.) On Sunday I will begin a series on another adventure: my two years of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. The Africa posts are already written and scheduled to go up every other day for the time I am gone. When I return my intention is to publish them as a digital book.

Meanwhile I will be gathering materials for numerous posts on the Mediterranean. But back to the Grand Canyon…

Steve Van Dore and Jamie Wilson serve as our boatmen for the two days we are on the river travelling from our camp at Redbud Alcove (mile 39) to our camp at Upper Rattlesnake (mile 74).

Steve, I’ve already introduced. Like Tom, he is an experienced Colorado River Boatman and loves the Canyon. He is also a specialist. His catamaran is outfitted with groovers: large ammo cans that have been modified to serve as portable potties.  Before toilet seats were added as a convenience, you sat on the rim of the can. It left grooves in your butt… hence the name.

We are all given training in setting up, taking down, and using the groovers. One of the first chores in arriving camp is to find the perfect place for the port-a-pot: a secluded location with a view. One time I found myself sitting on the pot and waving at rafters as they went by. The site received an A for the view and a C for the seclusion.

Steve is very knowledgeable about the Grand Canyon and readily shares his knowledge. Almost immediately he points out a site that was once proposed for a dam that would have covered much of the upper Canyon’s beautiful scenery, geological wonders and archeological treasures with water.

A similar effort was planned for downstream. Fortunately, the Sierra Club was able to stop the dams from being built. Otherwise, one of the World’s greatest natural wonders would have been lost.

A view of the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River between Redbud Alcove and Nankoweap.

When we arrive at Nankoweap (mile 53), Steve points out the granaries used by the Anasazi Indians somewhere between 1000 and 1150 CE (Common Era) or AD, if you prefer. The granaries are located high up on the cliff for protection from animals and insects. I think they are well protected from me as well. Tom has scheduled a hike up, however; I willingly go along.  I am curious about the granaries and think there will be spectacular views.

The granary is interesting and the views great. The climb is definitely worth it.

Our intrepid group hikes up the steep trail to the Granaries at Nankoweap in the Grand Canyon.

The Nankoweap Granaries built by the Anasazi Indians between 1000 and 1150 CE.

A view looking down the Colorado River from the Nankoweap Granaries in Grand Canyon National Park.

Jamie Wilson is our Boatman on the fifth day. He’s a delight. First of all he is funny and positive. Second, whenever a chore needs to be done, he is first in line. Finally, he is incredibly strong, which is a valuable asset when you get in a tight spot on the river. Jamie has his own business as a contractor in the Woodland/Davis area of California.

When we arrive at the Little Colorado River, it is time to play. The Little Colorado has two colors. First is a muddy reddish-brown. The River drains over 25,000 square miles. When it rains upriver, it carries tons of red topsoil.  The second color is a beautiful turquoise blue. When it doesn’t rain, much of the water comes from springs and is loaded with minerals that provide the turquoise color and very interesting deposits.

Looking up the Little Colorado River just above where if flows into the Colorado River. Note the unique water color and mineral deposits.

Another view along the Little Colorado River.

We hike upriver and don our life vests upside down over our legs.  It looks like we have put on huge diapers. We are going to float down the river. At first I carry out my photographer responsibilities but then I too don my diaper and jump in. Just as I go over a small waterfall my life vest slips down to my feet. My feet float fine but my head bobs along under the water.

Peggy models the life vest diaper look.

Hanging on to each other, our group forms a Conga Line Little Colorado River style and makes its way through the rapids.

As my life vest slipped up around my feet, my head dipped under the water.

I will close this post with an appropriate view of the sun setting on the Colorado River as I temporarily leave the Grand Canyon for my trip to Europe. I will return to finish writing about the journey in 2013. (Photo by Don Green)