Painted Rock Petroglyph Site… Voices from the Ancient Past: Part I

The rocks at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in Southern Arizona are covered with petroglyphs as shown in this photo with Peggy.

The rocks at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in Southern Arizona are covered with hundreds of petroglyphs, as shown in this photo with Peggy. Some my be several thousand years old.

Peggy and I had just been through one of those checkpoints that make Arizona so endearing to visitors: armed men with guns and dogs and x-ray machines had slowed us to a crawl as men stared, dogs sniffed and x-rays probed. It was for our own good. Yeah, right.

Having survived yet another checkpoint on our way to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I stepped on the gas and almost missed it. A small brown BLM sign on Interstate 8 announced we were passing the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site. At 70 plus miles per hour all that registered in my mind was petroglyph. “Whoa Quivera,” I said to our van who has little humor about stopping quickly at 20, much less 70.

Peggy and I are big petroglyph fans, having visited and blogged about several sites in the Southwestern US. This one was new to us– and now it was fading into the distance. America’s freeway system has little forgiveness for missed turns. Should we go on? No, the answer came easily. We decided that Organ Pipe could wait.

We soon found a place to turn around. After driving a few miles off the freeway, we arrived at the site. And were greeted by a large pile of rocks, flat ground, and a lonely saguaro. So much for this detour I thought– until Peggy pointed out that the rocks were covered from top to bottom with petroglyphs. A command decision was made. We would spend the night at the BLM campground.

We arrived at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in southern Arizona and found a large pile of volcanic rocks stacked up on the flat desert floor. Only when we got closer did we realize that the rocks were covered with Petroglyphs.

We arrived at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in southern Arizona and found a large pile of volcanic rocks stacked up on the flat desert floor. Only when we got closer did we realize that the rocks were covered with Petroglyphs.

Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in Southern Arizona

The closer we got to the rocks, the more petroglyphs we could see.

Rock covered with petroglyphs at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in southern Arizona.

Some, such as this rock Peggy is standing next to, were totally covered. Internet sites claim there are around 900 petroglyphs at Painted Rock. I would argue there must be more judging from this rock.

A sign nearby informed us that Native Americans had occupied the region for over 9000 years. (How much more native can you get?) Hunting and gathering peoples had lived in the area from approximately 7500 BC up until around 1 AD. A group, known as the Hohokam, had come afterwards and occupied the region up until the 1400s. Both cultures were represented by petroglyphs found at the site. We could almost hear their voices from the ancient past whispering to us.

Staying over night allowed us to capture the petroglyphs in different light.

Staying over night allowed us to capture the petroglyphs in different light.

Petroglyphs at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site.

In my next blog I’ll feature individual petroglyphs and discuss what we (assume) to know about their meanings. Meanwhile, I’ll finish today’s post off with photos of the saguaro cactus that dominated the site.

Saguaro cactus found at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in Southern Arizona.

This saguaro may be a youngster since it had yet to grown any arms. Youngster is relative meaning 50-75 years old. Check out the spines…

Here's a close up.

Here’s a close up of why snuggling up to a saguaro is a bad idea.

Setting sun outlines Saguaro Cactus at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site in southern Arizona. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

The setting sun outlined the Saguaro.

 

24 comments on “Painted Rock Petroglyph Site… Voices from the Ancient Past: Part I

    • These are actually pecked into the rocks with a stone, Nina. Over the years/centuries a dark, desert vanish forms over the rocks. The Native Americans chipped through it to make their petroglyphs. –Curt

  1. Wonderful post and very interesting. It also reminded me of Australian indigenous aboriginal art. This art, including rock art is based on ‘dreamtime stories’. The stories are ongoing as is the practise of their art. According to some carbon dating of the rock paintings in caves, it goes back at least 50 000 years.
    Those cacti are awesome.

    • Thanks Gerard. I’ve been to Australia but never made it out to see the aboriginal art. Ever since reading Chatwin’s Songlines, it has been on my bucket list. Imagine 50,000 years… The cactus are special. –Curt

    • Thanks. I love it when something just pops up. It is one of the joys of traveling. I am not actually wandering down there now. Painted Rocks was simply one of those numerous stories my photographs remind me about and inspire me to do. I am heading out for Nevada next week, however. Should be lots of fun tales… including a possibility of some more petroglyphs. –Curt

  2. I’ve seen a few petroglyphs out west (around Moab??) and I really enjoyed them. I notice in one of your photos a rectangle with smaller rectangles carved inside. This seems strange to me. Naturally occurring straight lines, and rectangles are rare in nature (except maybe in crystal minerals), especially 9000 years ago. I wonder where that idea came from? ~James

    • Interestingly, James, lots of petroglyphs incorporate patterns using straight lines. I put that one back in my latest blog because of your interest. One of my books on Petroglyph interpretation suggested it might have been a type of map. Also, if you’ve ever looked at Navajo blankets, the patterns in them reflect earlier petroglyph designs. Also if you travel back into ancient Greek history, a lot of the early art was geometric. –Curt

  3. I’m just laughing – I made a crack about the BLM in my response to your comment at my place. Let’s just say that Nevada’s an interesting place in many ways these days.

    I’m very much eager to return to Paint Rock, Texas, where there are pictographs on cliffs. I’m just beginning to sort out the petroglyphs from pictographs from tourist graffiti, but it’s all so interesting. And I’ve never seen a Saguaro. I want to do that some day. One of the things I most enjoy about sites like this is that they’re just “there” – generally accessible and often completely ignored.

    Now, if they had a water park…

    • The ignored part is ever so true, Linda. We often have these wonderful sites all to ourselves. Or there may be one or to other couples… rarely children. And I don’t get that. As a kid, I loved anything Indian. We hope to explore some more sites on our journey over the next two weeks, not to mention checking out UFOs and ghost towns. –Curt

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