Trek Date: September 16th, 2013
The temperature was in the high 90s and I had just finished a circuit of the Barker Dam Nature Trail, so why not go hiking deeper into the Wonderland of Rocks in search of a cool pictograph site? After all, the sun reflecting off the desert sand and bouncing off those giant quartz monzonite rock piles couldn’t really make it any hotter than it already was….
I’d seen photos of the pictographs I was looking for and after some research (amazing what you can deduce by using google images search and google earth), I had a pretty good idea of where I needed to go. Murbachi, the intrepid 3-D photographer/explorer, had done some recon a few days earlier and provided me with excellent intel that matched information we had found online. It would be a walk in the park. Well, it turned out to be a good hike in the park.
I used the Barker Dam trailhead as my starting point and followed the trail for a ways, eventually striking out cross-desert towards landmarks previously noted on my map. I was very surprised to see numerous small frogs along the way. But from the JTNP website I learned they were most likely Bufo punctatus, the red-spotted toad. They spend most of their time underground and come out topside after good, soaking rains. And since the park had recently experienced some heavy monsoon downpours, it made sense. Everything was green, the wildlife was happy and thousands of tiny yellow flowers covered the desert floor. I continued to hike.
Note to self: Distant things in the desert appear closer than they actually are.
Joshua trees, creosote bushes, junipers, chollas. These don’t provide much shade. The sun continued its attempt to suck all moisture from my body and I began to notice large birds circling me high overhead. I continued to hike.
Luckily, I was finally approaching my destination and I knew there would be a nice, cool shelter to rest in. I made the last turn and entered into a small valley. Tall rocky cliffs boarded one side, piles of jumbled rocks the other. Lots of rocks. Cacti. A few piñon pines tempting me with shade. Nothing much different in this valley from a hundred others in the Wanderland. Except….
There it was, maybe 100 feet or so above the valley floor. Nestled in the shadow of a rocky overhang, a nice cool shelter that would welcome a weary hiker and reward him with diamonds and rest. The climb to the overhang was quite easy, just a little bit of rock scrambling up a minor incline. Imagine all the feet that have walked up and down this same path for hundreds of years.
Upon reaching the top, I was rewarded with a great view of the valley below and a welcome respite from heat. It was at least 10 – 15 degrees cooler in the shade of the shelter. But rest was the furthest thing from my mind. I dropped my pack and turned to the rock wall to find the pictographs. And there they were, easy to spot as they are fairly large and remarkably well-preserved. The overhanging cliff undoubtedly protects them from the elements and has helped preserve most of them in great condition.
I found four panels in the shelter. The one on the far left has two abstract elements, and try as I might, I have no idea what they represent.
The next panel is what I call the Red Diamonds. There are 16 red diamonds with a couple of abstract designs and a circle, and just to the left of those are some additional markings.
To the right of the Red Diamonds is a striking sunburst design. Does it represent a sunrise or sunset? Does it have some connection with the summer solstice as mentioned on other websites? I have no idea, but I’m happy to have found it.
The last panel is somewhat hidden in a low recess of the rock wall. It consists of twenty-nine faded marks. Perhaps some ancient shaman was keeping track of something, or counting down to some momentous event. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure but it is fun to imagine what these pictographs originally represented.
After looking the place over and taking a number of photos, it was finally time to rest and enjoy the solitude. A light breeze was breezing and there was no one around me for miles, except perhaps the spirits of those whose art work I had come to see. At times like these I really enjoy chocolate chip granola bars. I was soon refreshed.
As there was still plenty of daylight left and time for another trek somewhere in the park, I gathered up my gear, took one last look around and said farewell. Heading back down the cliff and looking at the vast expanse of the Wanderland, I couldn’t help but think there must be other such sites out there yet to be found. Let’s go see what we can find.