Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Keyhole Canyon Southern Nevada

Keyhole Canyon is located in Southwestern Nevada. Not only is it a fantastic rock art site, the geology there is also amazing.

We are going to those distant mountains.

 Getting closer

Keyhole Canyon is straight ahead. It should be described as a "box" canyon because that is what it is. One way in, and one way out.

I'm starting from the far end of the canyon, because that is where this AMAZING dry waterfall was. I had my wife get into the photo for scale. From bottom to top (that disappears into the sunlight) it was easily 10 stories tall. The front of the canyon is 20-30 yards wide, but it narrows quickly, and we had to squeeze into the last part.  All of the white stone going up the falls, has been worn as smooth as glass. 

 In the center of the photo you can see my wife. She is very close to the VERY narrow opening leading to the main part of the canyon. Nobody knows why, but there are no petroglyphs at all in this area. Just past the narrow opening, there are many of them.

This is one of the first groupings of petroglyphs outside the Cathedral area. Most noteworthy of this group is the row of lateral grooves running up the middle of the rock. As you can clearly see, they look like they are eroding away. They are not! The creator of the petroglyph, did it on purpose. It is called "edge abrasion." Some archaeologists believe that this effect, is always near a location (usually a rock shelter) used for "puberty initiate" fasting. 

 Just inside the canyon mouth was a rock shelter that contained this awesome boulder.

In addition to this single mortero (mortar), there are at least a hundred cupules ground into the stone. Many archaeologists consider "cupules" to be the earliest form of "rock art."  Based on this boulder, I'm thinking this place was used more for ceremony, than for habitation. There has certainly been a lot of water here, but that was probably many thousands of years ago. 

Many of the petroglyphs in this canyon are thousands of years old. There are several layers in some parts. This panel is one of them. What is cool about it (to me anyway) is the presence of big horn sheep and the symbol in the middle. See a close up in the next photo.

This "stylized" human figure is called an "anthropomorph." (ascribing human form or attributes to something that is not human). There are also a couple of big horn sheep in the panel. This symbol (a human with horns) most likely represents a Shaman and his "helper" animal. Or not...

 To me, this symbol looks like a some type of abstract big horn sheep (or two). 

These large geometric symbols have been associated (by archaeologists) with the "creation mythology" associated with the Pueblo/Anasazi, Paiute, and Mojave tribes, that have all been associated with this area.

 Big horn sheep

 A variety

 Is it just me, or is that a clown face in the upper middle? Clowns are scary and I hate them...

Many big horn sheep



  1. Thousands of symbols. I'm sure you were in Heaven. Are there still big horn sheep in the area?
    Thanks again for featuring CassaDawn in your side bar. You rock!

  2. Thanks for highlighting the need to embiggen that photo, the larger photo really helps give you a sense of scale that is otherwise lost. The geometric symbols are new (to me) and are especially interesting - the details are stunning.

  3. Thank you for showing us one more instances of your remarkable findings. That canyon must be one of Nature's masterpieces, and all those petroglyphs made it one of the most fascinating sights I have seen. And, I tend to agree with you about the clown - sad.

  4. Alex J. Cavanaugh - You are so right, I LOVE this stuff. There are still big horn sheep around, but not nearly as many as before. You are welcome!

    Wayne - Thanks Wayne! Yep, that photo had to enlarged to appreciate it. It's like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon, photos just don't convey the feel of the place.

    visualnorway - My pleasure! That canyon certainly was a wonder. There is supposed to be a few pictographs there as well, but no luck! Clowns are evil...

  5. Some great photos Pat! I followed directions and embiggened (where did that word come from???) the image with your wife...awesome!!! I'm thinking the clown face in the petroglyphs looks a lot like the alien in Encounters of the Third Kind....

  6. That looks like an amazing place Pat, thanks for taking us along!

  7. Another stunning hike into a truly amazing and beautiful place. I am blown away by the sheer number of petroglyphs there. It is so interesting, this human desire to tell a story, keep a journal, record history. And true about the clown face--SCARY!!! LOL!

  8. Wow---what a find. I'm sure you loved every minute of being there... I look at each picture and imagine the life that happened back then with the people.... Wow!

    Does the waterfall ever get water now? Maybe if and when there would be a hard rain???


  9. Amazing photo's Pat. I may have asked before, but what do you shoot these with?

    Don't get to close to the border, they might not let you back in.....

    Cheers, pal.

  10. What a beautiful place. Those petroglyphs are very impressive, so clear and well-preserved.

  11. TheChieftess - Thanks! I believe it used to be used like this; "he was clearly embiggened by the support of his peers." Or something like that anyway. Yeah, it does look like an alien from that movie.

    Brian - It sure was! My pleasure.

    robin andrea - It really was a great place. There was a lot of petroglyphs, I didn't post them either. I wish we had a better understanding of what it all means. It seems that a good deal of the petros here were created by Shamans. Oh yeah, I hate clowns.

    Betsy Adams - You know I did! I do the same thing in these places. It does get water now, in fact there was some in a small pool at the bottom. I think it would to really have to be a sustained downpour to cause it to actually look like a waterfall now.

    William Kendall - Stark and beautiful is a perfect description for it.

    Should Fish More - Hey Mike! Thanks so much for the nice words. I usually take a Nikon D70 or D5200. Nothing too fancy, because I'm pretty hard on my cameras. I also carry a good P&S. Well, I did before I dropped it down a cliff. I climbed down and got it, but it needs to be repaired now. Them not letting me back in might not be such a bad thing these days.

    Al - Considering how old they are, they are in great shape. I agree about it being a beautiful place.

  12. rocks are cool. I think you have a thing for big horned sheep.

  13. Woah - that does look like a clown! Crazy!!

    This is a beautiful area! I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would have been with water.

  14. So many markings of antiquity - what a treasures here (hey, and you went out of California!). You probably did not stumble into this, how did you know about this area?
    Thank you so much for sharing this with ALL SEASONS, which in a few weeks (end of Feb) celebrates its first birthday:) Sorry for not keeping up with you - the holidays with family and blogging does not go together - but I hope you're doing okay health wise?

  15. In utter awe and gratitude to you for showing this. The photo with Ms Tillett in it is wonderful to show the incredible size .... I have been to a lot of amazing places in the SW and still this one has me gasping. And the glyphs and graphs are wonderful and omg that is a clown in that one ... it MUST have been a representation of evil absolutely for sure.

    I love this post.

  16. Amazing. Also, now I cannot unsee the clown. THANKS. :) Wonderful to see your photos as always. Always gives me desert envy.

  17. Hello, awesome series Pat! I like the shot with your wife, pretty scene. The symbols are just amazing, I did find the clown face. The big horn sheep are cool. Thanks for sharing , great find. Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

  18. never heard of "box" canyon but see what you mean. :) Lots of old stuff to see in that place.

    I loved the rocks in the image with the women. My kind of stuff. love all about it. And great to include the woman so we understand the size. :)

  19. Another great post Pat. Good to see you're still out and about.
    I do love that wide shot, and a great idea to get the scale. It's quite magnificent.
    The art work is amazing, having survived for so long. It conjures some amazing mental images of wild beast roaming, and hunters pursing them. I imagine they had that simple life for so long... thousands of years... and then came the revolutions and white man... and now the world is changing so rapidly we can barely keep up.. its pretty fucked really. Perhaps they had the best lives, and we are just on the slide to hell, but dont know it.

    Shit, got carried away. Thanks Pat. Wonderful traveling and presentation.

  20. Hello Pat,

    What always amazes me that you can find beauty in the places which at the first look not always look attractive. I enlarged a picture of a dry waterfall and it took my breath. I didn't realize how huge it is. It's beautiful and stunning.

    You love desert and so do I. Your photographs are always inspiring and always beautifully taken.

    Very best wishes to you Pat.

  21. Gosh it's fascinating Pat! What a plethora of images, you must have been pretty excited! The long horned sheep are so clear, obviously at some time there were sheep herds here. Your comment about the clown face made me laugh, you sound very definite about that, my daughter is exactly the same, she finds clowns terrifying.. Steven King's movie 'IT' has a lot to answer for 😀😀

  22. Powdered Toast Man - I do have a thing for big horned sheep. Unfortunately, I rarely see them anymore.

    Baby Sister - Yes, a scary and evil clown

    jeannettestgermain - HA! That's funny. Actually we do get out of California. About 8 weeks in the last year. I'm just not posting enough for you to notice. I need to rectify that. I think I've invested more time doing research, then I actually spend with boots on the ground. I am doing great health wise. Thanks so much for asking...

    DEZMOND - Yeah for them! I'm sure I couldn't even do as well as they did. And they were doing with a rock!

    Sallie (FullTime-Life) - It is my pleasure Sallie. On the other side, I am so grateful that you and others have supported me for such a long time. There is so much more out there, and I'm prematurely sad that I won't ever see much of it.

  23. Veg - Yep! It's been stuck in brain also. Thanks so much for saying those nice things.

    eileeninmd - Thanks Eileen! I appreciate what you said. Hope you are having a good week.

    NatureFootstep - I thought about "box canyon" as I was typing it. Yes, it was an amazing place and even today, that area around that dry waterfall amazes me.

    Kaya - Hi Kaya! Thanks so much! I know a lot of people would rather drive hundreds of miles out of their way, rather than even drive across a stretch of desert. Even as a child, my granny showed me that the desert was alive, and beautiful. Also that it could be harsh and deadly. I know that you also love the desert,and you have some of the best in your beautiful state.

  24. WOW Pat, that 4th shot down of the dry waterfall is AMAZING! I just can't get over how HUGE it is!? And it must feel even more awesome to actually see it in person and up close.

    Love your pictures of the petroglyphs. What impresses me the most about them is that they are still there, even after all the time that has passed. The history of them is utterly fascinating!

    Thanks so much for sharing, my friend!

  25. Ron - Thanks Ron! It truly was amazing, but I don't think a photo does it much justice. I get excited every time I see an old place like this. My pleasure Ron!

  26. Thank you for having your wife get in the photo. I'd never have imagined how huge it is. It's phenomenal, and phenomenally beautiful.

    Be well, Pat.

  27. It's good to see you out and about Pat. The rock architecture of the canyon is absolutely stunning. Do any climbers get out there?
    A question I've been meaning to ask for a while: how sharply incised are the petroglyphs into the rock? They look as though they would have worn away by now, given the ages you report.

  28. Dennis Hodgson - Thanks Dennis! It really feels good to out and about. Yes, there is some climbing that goes on there. I saw a few climbing bolts that looked pretty new. As to the petroglyphs... Some of them are etched with a harder rock, some are just scratched, and others are "pecked." How fast they wear away depends primarily on what kind of rock they are on, and where they are at. In the desert, the rocks become covered with what is called "desert varnish." The desert varnish is usually darker than the rocks it forms on. So, they would create their petroglyph through the varnish covering. You can see good examples of this in this post. Depending on how much varnish reforms on light petroglyph area, the age of the petroglyph can be determined with a degree of accuracy. I should do a post on this exact subject. Thanks for bringing it up

  29. Maybe it is because I just finished reading the 37th parallel, but one of those images looks like an alien face. You really saw a nice variety today. It sure must have been a great hike.

  30. What a place. I am always in awe of these places - the skill that it must have taken to survive in these places is remarkable.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne!

  31. Gorgeous landscapes, great information and recording of the petroglyphs!

  32. Sharon Wagner - Oh yeah! I've seen some strange sights in these places. This was a great place.

    Stewart M - I feel the same way on both counts Stewart. Those people did just fine without us...

    Liz - Thanks Liz! It was very enjoyable.

    Lady Fi - Thanks! I feel the same way.

  33. What a neat place. I've done a lot of off road travels in Nevada, but it is mostly north of Vegas (mostly south of US 50). Thanks for taking us along.

  34. Sage - We really did enjoy our visit here. I hope to be spending some time north of Las Vegas also. So much to see up there. If you like deserts that is. Which I do...

  35. Wow, incredible!! This looks very different from JTree, and yet I think I see some similarities in the petroglyphs.

  36. Spare Parts and Pics - I agree with you. Some almost seem to be universal, while others are totally different. I think some (if not most) of that is caused by tribes that migrated from one area to another over the ages.

  37. Hi Pat-
    Great photos of rock art and the surrounding area.
    The location also looks good for a slow bicycle ride on a fat tire bicycle.
    Thanks for visiting me.
    Have a Happy Weekend!
    Peace :)

  38. GreenComotion - It was a great place all around. You are welcome for the visit and thank you for coming here. I truly appreciate it!

  39. Hey Pat, long time no see! :) This is absolutely gorgeous scenery. One day soon, I hope to be able to travel around to spots like this one and revel in the beauty of nature as you and your wife have done. Glad to see all is well!

  40. Sylvia Plathypus - Hey! It has been a long time. I was wondering who you were for a minute, but when I went to your blog. I knew immediately. It's great seeing you at it again.

  41. Great photos. That is one of my favorite petroglyph spots. Did you happen to see the few pictographs in traditional red just at the mouth of the entrance to the canyon? If not the next time you go look between and up on huge boulders on the south side that are stacked. Thanks for pointing out the mortero. I will search for that the next time I am visiting.

  42. Unknown - It is a great spot. I did not find the pictographs. Thanks for giving me the location. The mortero and cupules are on the left side, under a rock shelter, just after you enter the canyon. Thanks so much for your comment!


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