Monday, March 23, 2015

Dead Mountains Petroglyphs - Eastern Mojave Desert

The Dead Mountains are a fairly small range in the Eastern Mojave Desert. About 20 years ago, the federal government created the Dead Mountains Wilderness area. That designation bans vehicles of any type from entering the area and assures (allegedly), that there will NEVER be any type of development allowed. The only tire tracks to be found here are those from BLM jeeps, who enter the area to enforce the laws. Like most other desert mountain ranges in the Mojave, the daytime temperatures reach deadly high levels (how about 120 degrees). That is why we were there recently and not in July!

In the early 1800's, mountain man and frontier explorer Jedediah Smith* was tasked with finding an acceptable route for crossing the brutal Mojave Desert. The route had to lend itself to both horses and wagons. The canyon in which we found these petroglyphs, is about six miles long, and was part of the very route Smith hoped to establish as part of the route for pioneers and others traveling west. He observed many of the same petroglyphs we saw there two weeks ago (love the history of that). Unfortunately, there are a few places in the canyon that were blocked by dry waterfalls, or very rugged areas. Wagons would never be able to use the route. The path was moved a little bit to the north and was eventually known as the "Mojave Road."  The Mojave Road, has an amazing history of it's own, and today is used only by four wheel drive vehicles out for a few day's adventure into the past. More about the Mojave Road, in the future.

*Jedediah Smith is credited as being the first white man to travel overland from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the Colorado River, through the Mojave Desert, and eventually into California. He is also credited with being the first United States Citizen to explore and cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into the Great Basin. He was also thought to be the first American to travel up the California coast into what is now called Oregon. Not much a hero to me though, because this period marks the beginning of a long period of genocide, inflicted upon the Native Americans. The Spanish deserve some of the blame also, but the later expansion of the United States from "Sea to Shining Sea, was much worse.

Here is one of the areas deemed impassible for wagons. Now back to the beginning...

After driving about an hour from where our RV was parked, we had to go off pavement and onto this "power-line" road. Very deep sand in places and very easy to become stuck. The wilderness area starts a few hundred yards up this road and to the right. When we reached a spot just over the horizon, the driving part of this trip was over. We parked the jeep and started hiking towards the Dead Mountains. You can see a little bit of the them in the upper far right of this photo.

Did I mention that it's been getting warm and there are rattlesnakes out here? While we were hiking our way into the canyon, my wife stepped off a little eroded ledge in the wash and almost landed right on top of this guy!

Judging by his length (about 18 inches) and that he only had one rattle segment, he was clearly a youngster. However, being young doesn't make him any less dangerous or deadly. Like most snakes, they like encounters with humans, even less than we do. He went his way and we went ours. No harm done.

Working our way down wash, towards the canyon.

The actual entrance into the canyon is just to the right of center. We were hiking in the opposite direction as Jedediah Smith.

A look back

My wife on the north side, while I'm on the south.

Very rugged country in the Dead Mountains

See what is right next to the orange blotch towards the top?

A closer view. This petroglyph is very old and the desert varnish is reclaiming it. As far as we knew, the petroglyphs were only supposed to be around a spring, which was still a couple of miles into the canyon.

I don't know (or claim to know) much about geology, but I do know that those veins (of whatever it is) is an amazing sight.

You need an eagle eye to spot the petroglyphs in this jumble. The next photo is a dark horizontal rock just above center.

A cross in the center (much conjecture about exactly what it means). In the upper left are a couple "atlatls." If you don't remember, the atlatl predates the bow and arrow as the means of propelling arrows/darts and spears.

My wife is the one with the eagle eye and here she is using it.

To me, the most interesting part of this panel, are what appear to be antlers of some type. Not like the usual mountain sheep you usually see around here.

Interesting symbols in a pretty scene

Most of the petroglyphs in this canyon are geometric symbols, and referred to as being of the "Grapevine Style." There are many "styles" out there, and many of them overlap, so I'm sure they are called other things as well.

Diamonds and what looks to me like a "D" as in Damn graffiti! I hope I'm wrong, but it looks totally fresh.

LOVE the anthropomorphic symbol with the huge hands in the upper right.

This part of the canyon is covered with petroglyphs and close to a spring. If there was any habitation here, it probably took place in this area. I also say that because, it was fairly level here and the canyon seemed to drain in both directions.


Even closer. See the big hands near the bottom?

Here is the spring.

The round "baseball" looking symbol on the right part of this rock, looks very similar to a symbol in Joshua Tree. I need to find it and post it under this photo.

Where is Waldo?

This is the level area I was talking about. There were a couple of very shallow grinding stones near here. I have so many more photos from this place, but I think I've already overdone it...
One thing I almost forgot to mention... There were more animal footprints in this canyon, then I've seen in a long time. There was one kind of animal that we saw exactly ZERO footprints from. HUMANS! Not a single print for miles.



  1. Smith was a pioneer all right.
    Glad your wife didn't step on the rattler!
    Thanks for including the shot with her and the rocks. Really shows the size of the place.

  2. Very interesting! Lovely petroglyphs, too. If I saw the rattler, you would hear me screaming all the way to Mars! Your wife must be pretty cool!
    Cheryl Ann

  3. Some of the petroglyphs are very unusual with the rectangular shapes, they almost look like windows. That light colored vein is pretty stunning, it really make you wonder what happened.

    Have you ever considered publishing a book of petroglyphs ?

  4. really awesome place! love the rugged rocks, veins, colors. the petroglyphs are remarkable and most so clear! glad you and your wife did not get snakebit!

  5. As always, I just love your photographs and historical lessons. This area is truly full of wonder isn't it? The rattle snake picture wasn't necessary I am terrified of snakes and I live in Florida! Duh.

  6. Another motherload of glyphs. What an adventure. It is so interesting to be your virtual travel partner.

  7. Those are amazing photos Pat and that snake didn't look overly happy!

  8. What an amazing place and you do get the best photos and they are the next best thing to being there!! Thanks so much for sharing your adventures, Pat!! Have a great new week!

  9. Some of the patterns on the rocks are similar to ones on Navajo and Hopi rugs and blankets I have that were woven around the turn of the century and before.
    Keep on truckin', Pat.

  10. My god, you have put together an amazing wealth of desert information and wonderful photos. This blog is a treasure trove. I'm glad Paula missed the snake!!!

  11. Goodness gracious, you hit petroglyph paydirt! In one spot it looked like someone was etching a novel!

  12. The petroglyphs are quite varied. And the terrain is stark but beautiful!

  13. I would have to see them to be sure, but the mineral veins are almost certainly quartz.

    As for the crosses, they're what are known as Greek crosses in the Old World: clear evidence that the ancient Greeks were the first Europeans to visit North America (cough, cough).

    I don't often comment on your posts Pat, but I do enjoy reading them.

  14. Wow, you find so many petroglyphs. It's a beautiful, but desolate, area.

  15. Was this part of the territory that the camel brigade came through? I love that your doing the footwork and taking us along for the ride. Jedediah Smith is a problematic character -- I think he got his start killing bears and buffalo. Not sure, but maybe.

    Now I'm off to find the Dead Mountain. When you drove to as close as you could get, was it by way of 4-wheel drive?

  16. Alex J. Cavanaugh - Yep! I guess if it wasn't him, it would have been somebody else. I'm really glad she didn't also. Especially because she was wearing hiking shoes and not boots, and had shorts on.

    trav4adventures - My wife was yelling a little also, but it was mostly at herself.

    Wayne (Woody), whatever - There are several different styles, some of them don't seem to much form (at least not to a person who ISN'T in an altered state). I have not considered a book on petroglyhs. I have enough trouble getting a blog post out every week or so. Thanks Wayne!

    TexWisGirl - Sometimes, the conditions are good and the petroglyphs don't erode too quickly. I am also glad we didn't get bit. I've never come close as an adult, but as a kid, I had some really close calls.

    Bouncin Barb - Thanks so much Barb! They may be scary, but they are also very tasty!

  17. Sharon Wagner - Oh yeah, and I only posted part of them. Around the spring area, the canyon wall was covered with hundreds of them. Thanks Sharon, it's my pleasure.

    Brian - Thanks Brian! He wasn't very happy at all.

    Sylvia - You are most welcome Sylvia! Thanks for the nice words and constant support.

    Should Fish More - Even thought the symbols change a lot from place to place, there does seem to be a bit of consistency with some symbols. It is pretty cool that you have those things. Stuff that old, is usually in a museum. Thanks!

    tapirgal - Thanks so much Sheryl! I wish I was a few decades younger, so I could see more of it.

    Ms. A - Yep! It was a cool and interesting place. I wish I could read that novel!

  18. Rugged and elemental. Blessed solitude. Great sense of the connection to the earth and history. You guys sure do make great use of your time! I'm so jealous of your lifestyle and adventures. Life is ironic – when I don't have a job, I have the time but no funds for travel. When I do have a job, no time to travel. Sheesh! Please stay safe and of course, Happy Trails!

  19. William Kendall - Yep, there was a lot to look at. I know a lot of people don't find it to be beautiful at all. I guess that is a good thing. No crowds!

    Dennis Hodgson - A lot of people try to give a religious meaning to all the crosses. The equilateral (or Greek) cross meant a lot of different things to various Indian tribes here. To some they represented humans with outstretched arms, dragon flies, the directions of the four winds, the four elements, the four caverns of creation, the sun, a star, and many other things. All of those things are of pre-historic or archaic origin. The cross was also sometimes used during historic times, to represent the catholic church. That is a major negative, because missionaries and the entire mission system, was the first attempt by anyone to destroy the native American Culture. Convert and work, or die.

    Greek crosses aside, there are a lot of different camps arguing about which European country got here first. I know one thing, there were native people here for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus discovered America (COUGH! COUGH!). I appreciate you reading my posts Dennis, you were one of the first. I also try to read all of yours. I'm always playing catch-up.

    Al - Thanks Al! Beautiful and desolate is a perfect description.

    Pasadena Adjacent - The answer to your question about the "camel corps" is a solid yes, no, and I don't know!
    Some people claim they did travel the "Mojave Road" while others say they didn't. I know that there is a monument to them in Laughlin Nevada, where the Mojave road pretty much starts. So I have no idea. However, they did travel in the same direction but maybe 35 miles to the south. Basically, along the same path, that the I-40 was later constructed. It was the darn military, they usually over-document everything.

    On to the Dead Mountains...Once we got off the highway we were most-def in FWD. It was all sand, and in some spots, it was deep and loose. I wouldn't try it in a passenger car on a bet. Even if you did make it to the hiking part, you have to get off the narrow road to park, I'm pretty sure that a passenger car would for get stuck there. It would be worth renting one for a day. However you do it, I hope you do see the place.

  20. Stickup Artist - Rugged, elemental and away from the maddening crowds. That is exactly what I love about these places. I know what you mean about the money versus time conflict. We worked very hard to get where we are. We don't have much money, but we have enough. What we do have is time! We're out right now, but haven't done much yet.A couple of bike rides and trip into Joshua Tree (the town, not the park) and Palm Springs for the Thursday night street fair. We have been lazy and enjoying it.

  21. I always enjoy your historical and interesting posts as well. Glad your wife didn't have a bad encounter with that rattler. Really nice post!!

  22. Very different petroglyphs from the ones in Bishop!

  23. Montanagirl - Thanks so much! I'm really happy about that also. That would have ruined the day. No cell service and a long hike back to the jeep.

    TheChieftess - You are so right about that! I think I said in the post that these are considered art of the "Grapevine Style." I heard those in Bishop described as several different styles. They are certainly more abstract looking.

  24. I am in utter awe of the places you two get to.... such beautiful glyphs and pretty much only you have seen them. Almost nobody else. I always wonder and wonder and imagine whenever I see these (and of course the ones I have seen are in way less remote and more protected places). Of the ones you show today, that antler one makes me really really wonder -- was there some such animal at one time there? Had the person who created it traveled elsewhere.... ? I know, we can't know, but isn't it fun to think about!!

  25. Oh and Jedidiah ... I guess we have to give him his due as part of the history of the west even if we hate what he brought. So much sad history in this country (and I'm sure everywhere)... but we an't forget it.

  26. Fascinating trip Pat, yourself and Mrs T sure don't let the grass grow under your feet :) you must have been thrilled at the number of drawings you found.. not so much the snake :) would just love to be able to travel back in time to see how they originated..

  27. Ohmy...that snake! Oh no no no...I keep my distance! :) congrats Pat, you did such a great article here, very interesting to know those glyphs. Love your pictures!

  28. What a beautiful area!! I'm glad they're trying to keep it protected. I don't think I would ever go there because of the rattlesnakes, so thanks for the pictures. :)

  29. Sallie (FullTime-Life) - I am also in utter awe of them. When you consider the entire population, yeah, I guess very few people have seen many of these places. That is pretty cool! It is fun to imagine, what some of these symbols mean.

    I agree about Mr.Smith. But if it wasn't him, it would have been somebody else. Still sad though...

    PerthDailyPhoto - We try not to! We were thrilled, because we only expected to see them around the spring. To be honest, I'm glad it didn't bite her, but I was still happy to see it. It's part of the equation and they keep the rodent population under control.

    Cezar and Leia - Thanks Leia! Believe me, snakes are just as afraid of us, as we are of them. We have to always be on the lookout for them in warm weather.

    Baby Sister - It sure is! I don't want to worry you, but you have your share of rattlers in Utah also.

  30. Love, wonderful place but very dangerous snakes! Good catch that rattlesnake !!

  31. well, that´s a pretty wile and beautiful country. Including rattlesnakes. And so many ancient artworks to find :)

  32. stay away from them nasty snakes, Pat!

  33. " Like most other desert mountain ranges in the Mojave, the daytime temperatures reach deadly high levels (how about 120 degrees). That is why we were there recently and not in July!"

    Pat, I don't blame you because I am not one for heat, so I would have done the same thing. I lived in Las Vegas for a summer back in the 70's, and clearly remember how hot it was. But it's a very different kind of heat than what I was use to living Florida, where it's soooo humid. At least with the desert, it's a drier heat.

    Gorgeous shots! And I particularly like the one of your wife standing next to the rocks because you can really get a sense of how big they were!

    Once again, fascinating post!

  34. The rattlesnakes are still sleeping around Echo Mountain, but I expect they'll wake up early this year.

  35. These are stunning, Pat--Wow is not enough. I'm thinking WOWOWOW!
    Some of the petroglyphs are among the richest you've ever shown. And
    "There will NEVER be any development allowed" has to be among the most beautiful words you've ever written.

  36. Leovi - Wonderful and dangerous! that is a good description Leovi.

    NatureFootstep - It is all of those things.

    DEZMOND - Oh yeah! It is fairly rare to see them. that's a good thing.

    Ron - I can handle it in the hot weather, but my wife not so much. She seems to run on furnace mode without the heat. Oh yeah Ron, I'd take 110 in the desert over 90 in Florida, any day! Thanks so much!

    altadenahiker - The State of CA, says that reports of snake bites are way up this year, but this is the first one we've seen in a long time.

    Margaret Benbow - Hi Margaret! Thanks so much! I just hope it stays that way.

  37. Great post. Seeing these kinds of things always reminds me of how much we have lost - the rock paintings I have seen always remind me of our less than honourable past.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  38. What a fantastic outing. The petroglyphs are just amazing.. The scenery and rock formations and colors are beautiful. Everything except the rattler snake.. Great post and images. Have a happy week!

  39. J'ai adoré ton post, super complet avec de très très belle photos !!!
    Great photos! I love it!
    Ps, I just see you in my 4th blog quite recent, do not hesitate to come and visit, thank you in advance.

  40. Stewart M - Thanks Stewart! I totally agree with you. So much is gone.

    eileeninmd - Thanks Eileen! It was a great outing. Even the rattlesnake was beautiful! More so because it ended well. You have a great week also.

    chc c - Thank you very much Cath! I will not hesitate!

  41. Thank you for the history lesson - on this side of the Atlantic we tend to think that we own the history. Not so.

    Kudos to both you and your wife for the eagle eyes! Fascinating - and I would probably not have seen a thing.

  42. The petroglyphs are amazing! I ran into a rattler a few years back, but it was no baby. In fact, it had 6 rattle segments. Luckily, it let me take pictures, let me walk around it, then slithered off the trail.

  43. Was just thru there today 2/5/18 , & it is now an atv hiway !!!!! Unbelievable! We hiked a mile from the lower end from the Mohave trail & again were stunned when we dropped into the canyon how much traffic had been thru !

  44. nativeazboy - I'm so sorry to hear that. I know that all ATV drivers aren't vandals, but almost every bit of vandalism I see, has ATV tire tracks right there.


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