Images found in ancient petroglyphs - pictures scratched, carved or pecked into rocks - have become emblematic of the Southwest. You can see petroglyphs at two nearby sites. And because pioneer routes followed ancient trails, you may also find messages from more recent passersby, from Spanish explorers to otherwise unknown Forty-Niners.
The closer site is at Antelope Hill, a 575-foot knob of sandstone just east of Wellton, where "desert varnish," the dark patina that forms on rock in arid conditions, provides the canvas for mostly human figures. Experts believe that Antelope Hill was the West's largest milling quarry, a neutral site where many tribes found sandstone to shape into grinding tools. The images probably served both religious and artistic purposes and as means of communication among tribes.
Directions: Take I-8 east to exit 37 and follow Antelope Hill Road. Just before metal bridge (Gila River), turn right. More info: BLM Yuma office, 928.317.3200; "Rock Art Along the Way," Janet Farnsworth and Bernadette Heath.
Farther east, the Painted Rock Petroglyph site just outside Gila Bend is the largest of about 40 in the immediate area, and includes about 800 images on basalt boulders overlaying a granite outcrop. Images here include the concentric spirals often found at Hohokam sites, pictures of mounted riders that were made after the Spanish introduced horses to the region, and pioneer graffiti.
Directions: East on I-8 about 100 miles to exit 102, Painted Rock Dam Road. Follow Painted Rock Dam Road north 10.7 miles to Rocky Point Road, then left (west) about 0.6 miles to the site. More info: Painted Rock Petroglyph Site & Campground Info, BLM Lower Sonoran field office, 623.580.5500.
The Blythe Intaglios are a group of gigantic figures etched into the desert floor near Blythe, Calif., just east of the Big Maria Mountains. The geoglyphs were created by scraping away layers of darker rocks and pebbles to uncover a layer of lighter-colored soil, and are so immense that many of them were not "discovered" by non-Native Americans until the 1930s.
The figures are believed to have been created thousands of years ago, and have been radiocarbon dated from 900 BCE to 1200 CE. According to the Mohave and Quechan tribes of the lower Colorado River area, the human figures represent Mastamho, the creator of the earth and life, and the animal figures represent Hatakuyla, a mountain lion/person also involved in the creation. In ancient times, sacred ceremonial dances were held in the area to honor the Creator of life.
Though the figures are best from the air, it's possible to drive & hike to the sites to see the intaglios from ground level. Fun fact about the intaglios: They were featured in a Hardy Boys book, "Mystery of the Desert Giant", published in 1961.
Directions: About 15 miles north of Blythe, California, on U.S. Route 95, more info BLM Yuma Field Office; article with a variety of aerial photos here; Wikipedia article here.
Three national wildlife refuges in the Yuma area—Cibola, Imperial and Kofa—make up one of the country’s largest contiguous protected areas for wildlife. With more than 1,000 square miles between them, their ecosystems include desert, desert upland, riparian, grasslands, and forest.Read More