Frogs or Aliens… Petroglyphs from Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park

Petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park, southern Nevada.

I was thinking frogs when I first saw this petroglyph found on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park. Now I am thinking aliens about to be beamed up to a flying saucer… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Southwestern United States provides numerous opportunities to study petroglyphs left behind by ancient peoples who occupied the region for several thousand years before the arrival of Europeans. Early natives took advantage of desert varnish, a dark film of oxides formed on rocks in areas where rain is rare. Using a stone, artists, or possibly shamans, would peck through the varnish to the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind art or messages whose meaning we can only guess. Peggy and I are fascinated by this rock art and have visited numerous sites in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico as well as other locations (like Hawaii, for example).

The Valley of Fire State Park has several areas where petroglyphs can be found, including Atlatl Rock, which features a stair structure that allows people an opportunity to climb high up on the cliff for a closer view. While Peggy, Ken and Leslie climbed the stairs, I wandered off to find less tourist-oriented petroglyphs.  I like to think of the search for rock art as a treasure hunt.

An atlatl, BTW, is a device early people used to give a thrown spear more oomph. Plastic tennis ball throwers, designed to give Fido a workout, operate on the same principle. Modern use of atlatls has shown that speeds up to 93 miles per hour can be achieved. If you visit Atlatl Rock on March 19, 2017, you can actually watch the 25th Annual World Atlatl Competition where enthusiasts from around the world will gather to see who can toss a spear the farthest.

Viewing platform on Atlatl Rock at Valley of Fire State Rock in southern Nevada.

The petroglyph viewing platform seen here, is located high up on Atlatl Rock. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Ken and Leslie Lake provide perspective on viewing platform on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park.

Our friends Ken and Leslie, standing on the viewing platform, provide perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Petroglyphs on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas.

A close-up of the petroglyphs provides a view of an atlatl and an atlatl thrower. The Bighorn sheep on top may be the target. Just below is the atlatl, and below that is the feathered spear (slightly crooked). The spear thrower is just beneath that. My ‘aliens’ are on the left. A possible ladder, lighting storm, shaman and trees are also found among the petroglyphs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Foot petroglyph found on Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

I was amused by this atlatl thrower connected by a power line with a sheep and then a foot. What the heck does this mean? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

While Peggy, Ken and Leslie were exploring Atlatl Rock, I was off wandering around on the other side looking for petroglyphs.

Bighorn Sheep petroglyphs at Valley of Fire State Park.

I found a pair of nose to tail Bighorn Sheep… (Doggy sniff-sniff maybe?)

This whatchamacallit and a spiral… (The spiral may represent a journey from an inner world.)

Petroglyph found near Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park.

And a woman having a baby. At least that’s what my rock art symbol book tells me.

Peggy and crew joined me to check out these petroglyphs on a cliff that we had discovered on an earlier trip. Apparently the rock artists had used a crack in the rock to climb up to do their work. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Petroglyphs carved into desert varnish on a cliff face near Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

A closer look…

And closer. Lots of sheep, a shaman, a fat dog, and an atlatl. The circles at the bottom may represent the sun. And can you find the coyote?

Plant in sand near Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

I also found this green plant with its weird shadows that contrasted well with the golden sand. Note the animal tracks beside the plant.

And Peggy captured this colorful sandstone cliff with its erosion. No wonder natives might consider the area sacred. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Arch Rock at Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

Just up the road from Atlatl Rock is this much photographed arch— photographed by Peggy.

Arch Rock photograph by Curtis Mekemson in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

Also took my turn and will conclude this post and my series on Valley of Fire State Park with the results.

27 comments on “Frogs or Aliens… Petroglyphs from Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park

  1. They are fascinating. I wondered why over the hundreds of years, the “desert varnish” they were cut in did not obscure them again. A ranger told me it was because it takes more than a 1000 years for that thin layer to form.

    • Right, Ray. In fact the amount of desert varnish that does cover a petroglyph is used as a way of measuring its age. I can’t get enough of petroglyphs. I’ve blogged about them several times and I am tempted to do a series. –Curt

  2. In some ways this reminds us of the aborginial art in Australia. They too left such petroglyphs behind depicting stories of their origins and of various myths.

    • I haven’t seen the petroglyphs in Moab, Cindy, but I will add the area to my list. Did you ever make it to the Three Rivers National Petroglyph Site in New Mexico? It is my all time favorite. –Curt

  3. You gotta wonder what those ancient civilizations were like – what do those petroglyphs really mean?

    BTW, that red rock and the platforms reminded of the scene of Capt Kirk’s last stand.

    • Some seem really obvious, Dave, like a sheep with arrows in it; others, like many of the human-like figures, really leave me scratching my head. It’s fascinating. Didn’t see Kirk’s last stand, but now I may have to watch it. –Curt

  4. How can you have missed the meaning of the “atlatl thrower connected by a power line with a sheep and then a foot”? Clearly, we have a historical record of the one of the first humans to have found, lassoed, and dragged home Bigfoot.

  5. Great atlatl throwing, Curt. Cave and rock art is found all over the world. I find it fascinating. In Australia new caves are discovered with paintings dating back thousands of years. I am not sure of any engravings. A lot of it was applied by the colours being spat by mouths onto the rocks.
    Modern Australian aboriginal art is now sought by galleries all over the world. Questions are being raised about the earnings to the artists being fair!

    • I look forward to making it to Australia and checking out the pictoglyphs, Gerard. We also have some very interesting rock paintings.
      I am sure that many galleries pay pennies on the dollars they earn. There is always someone around eager to make a buck off of someone else’s work. There is also a major concern here about folks robbing ancient sites. –Curt

  6. Now here’s a place we’ve seen in common! The one and only day we visited Valley of Fire, there was an atlatl competition, but it may not be the one you are referencing. There were stations with fake animals at each station. Atlatl throwers waited their turn at each station to see if they could hit the bulls-eye on the animal. Many children participated, and, for them, it may have been an introduction to the art. There were also booths set up where you could see and purchase handcrafted items. We enjoyed the petroglyphs, the colors of the park, and the people excited to be participating in such an event. And I’m enjoying your blog with good photos and rich info!

    • I’d loved to be at the Valley of Fire when they are holding the competition, Rusha. As I recall, we just missed. It was our second time there, and I will go again. Maybe I’ll get a chance to use an atlatl next time! 🙂 –Curt

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