Thursday, February 26, 2009

Petroglyphs in the desert

On Monday, Matthias and I went with a group of friends, to bounce along a dusty desert road in search of some petroglyphs in the Rodman Mountain area in Johnson Valley. It is not too far from Joshua Tree, and of course, we love to explore. I posted about petroglyphs in Arizona about a year ago, but for those of you who didn't read that post, petroglyphs are drawings that were actually etched into the rock. Pictograms, on the other hand, are pictures that were painted on rock, and tend to not last as long, unless they are found in caves or a sheltered location. (Probably the most well-known pictograms are the Lascaux cave paintings.)

I love all kinds of art, including pre-historic art, so this was a trip that was really exciting to me. As I wandered along the basalt, looking at the petroglyphs that were created by ancient desert dwellers, all kinds of questions arose. We will never really know what the people were thinking about while creating this wonderful rock art, but I discovered one theory with the help of google that I found particularly compelling. This article, written by Susan Hough, explored the idea that the wavy lines found in many of the petroglyphs in Southern California were portrayals of the geologic disturbances common to this area. Since these petroglyphs we visited on Monday were on basalt, near what looked like a lava flow, it was not hard for me to find Ms. Hough's theory to be a good one. If I were living in a time before anything was known about earthquakes and volcanoes, I am sure I would have thought the gods were angry, or trying to communicate with me. Of course, there were other shapes and some animals in addition to the wavy lines. I find it really intriguing, trying to discern the meaning of these ancient symbols.

Here is a photograph of the basalt where the petroglyphs were carved into the rock.

In addition to the petroglyphs, some of the rock had the most incredible orange lichen covering it.
Nature certainly has a way of supplying me with a lot of creative impetus.

We had a good day, and ate a picnic lunch before our short hike to the petroglyphs. The weather was a bit undecided, changing from cloudy, cold and windy to sunny and warm in the blink of an eye. I am always happy to have layers of clothes. After our exploration of petroglyphs, we also stopped to see some intaglios. Our friends Nora and John had been there before, which is how we found out about all of these exciting examples of pre-historic art. They said the intaglios were much more easily visible on their previous visit. I didn't even take a photograph, the images were so hard to see. We weren't sure why this was, unless a recent rain had made the intaglios invisible. If anyone else has clues regarding our inability to see the intaglios, I would be interested in knowing about them. Apparently, intaglios are found in the desert "pavement", where darker parts of the rock were moved aside. The images are seen most easily from the air. I wished there had been something to see, but maybe we will return and find them next time.


julie king said...

oh this must have been fun. i love hiking and to be able to do it in sunshine in february! wow!

High Desert Diva said...

I love looking at them. Years ago we drove to Wyoming...took a little detour to Utah to see the Dinosaur National Monument.....not too far from our campground was an area with petroglyphs. They are fascinating.

Reminds me of the part in An English Patient when the pictograms are being copied down and she realizes they are meant to depict people swimming....

Anil P said...

Exactly. most times when I see creations dating back centuries I wonder what it is that the creator was thinking at the time.

More so many of the architectural wonders, their design, the sculptures.

Robyn said...

Petroglyphs are exactly my "cup of tea". Whenever I visit sites like these I feel like I'm being watched.....or am I just wierd? Love the image in the 3rd photograph. It is not unlike the symbols on cliff walls in Mali. Mmmm.. I just love it! Thanks for posting Karine.

trav4adventures said...

I felt like we were being watched at the Bishop area petroglyph site at the top of Fish Slough Road. Eerie!