A question about that absolutely beautiful set of petroglyphs. Were they by themselves or in an area of others?
Petroglyphs and pictrographs have been somewhat a minor hobby for me over the years. I am not an expert, but have been studying the available research in more detail recently.
The petroglyphs Bob shared were made by a Shaman.
So what can we surmise about Bob’s Shaman? Well the place he chiseled them became a place of power to him. He searched for a place that had a pathway to the supernatural world, and this place had water, or a cave (or rock over hang), or a rock crack that provided a gateway to his journey to the other world. He was on a “vision quest” or "dreaming." As a Shaman or a Shaman Apprentice he needed to enter the supernatural world to find a helper/ally to give him his Shaman powers. Preparing for his vision quest he fasted, probably engaged in some sort of very tiring physical activity, maybe ingested natural tobacco (a hallucinogen), or in rare occasions might have ingested jimsonweed. All of this was done to create a hallucinogenic state. Once he was ready for his journey, he sat down and closed his eyes. The journey would entail 3 stages. The first stage was visual, but with eyes closed. Picture yourself looking at a bright light and then closing your eyes, and you will see some sort of figure on your eyelids. Bob’s Shaman saw the figure in the middle of the picture. As he got closer to his pathway into the supernatural, his vision (probably still optical), was the spiral with dots around it. And once he entered the supernatural word, he found his helper, a bird, probably an eagle. He may have seen other things in the supernatural world, but the bird became his ally. After this was accomplished, he fell asleep.
As we know, often we easily forget our dreams after a short period of time. Upon awaking, we do remember it or parts of the dream. For the Bob’s Shaman, he knew that if he forgot his journey into the supernatural, he would die. So he chiseled the journey on the rock. The images are not what the objects look like in real life (e.g., the bird), but what they looked like in the dream. And this Shaman would probably return to this place many times during his life, because it became his personal place of power.
Some Shamans would superimpose the images on top of each other in the order they happened. Or some would spread them out as Bob’s Shaman did. However they created it, it was to meet their personal requirements as Shamans, not to create art for others. Zig-zags often depict the sidewinder rattlesnake and diamonds a diamondback rattlesnake.
Art, Religion, or Graffitti?
As many of you may have gathered, I hike a lot in the Southern Sierras, and the southern California & Nevada deserts. I have visited over a hundred petroglyph/pictrograph sites. Some were by design, and most were somewhat accidental. Over time I have learned where this art rock might be found, and although I usually am not looking for rock art, I find it if it is there. The places I frequent most often were at one time populated by Indians that can be separated into four groups, based on the language they spoke. (1) The Great Basin Desert (Southern Nevada, Owens Valley, Death Valley & the Mohave Desert), (2) the South Central part of California (ocean to the Western Sierras), (3) the Southernmost deserts of California, and (4) the area along the lower Colorado River. The first three were very similar in religion/culture because they were hunter/gatherers. For these three, the rock art was entirely religious in nature, either made by Shamans, or participants in rites of initiation into puberty. The Colorado group tended to rely on some level of agriculture, and stayed close to the River. Their art often included their religious mythology. Many South Central Shamans used paint to create art. The other groups usually chiseled or pecked the art. It was not uncommon for the participants in the initiation rites of the far southwest of California to paint the art.
Rock Art Sites and Significance –
Shamans created their rock art in places of power. Those places might have been passed down by their teacher-Shaman, they may have found them on their own, or they might be places of extreme power that Shamans would travel great distances to gain power. An example is the Coso Mountains near Ridgecrest. Shamans traveled from as far as northern Utah to this site, where the Big Horn Sheep would become their helper in the ability to make rain. Typically when you see a Big Horn petrograph, its purpose is to help the Shaman to make rain. However there are many petroglyphs of other animals, as the area is a very powerful place, and not all Shamans wanted the Big Horn as a helper. Many Shamans were evil and searched out evil allies.
When I moved to Palm Springs in 1977, I met an elderly Indian one day while hiking in the desert and we became friends. (Note: The Cahuilla band where I live preferred to be called Indians, so I will use that term). I found that in northern Arizona, the natives hated the term and Native American was preferable. This gentleman was saddened that the younger generations of Indians in his band had lost interest in walking in the desert, and he called it the White Man’s disease. But we hiked together often, and he told me about many places where the art could be found. What is interesting is that he was a non-Shaman, and these places were dangerous to him. He would not go to them, nor would he discuss them… it was too dangerous. He did tell me that there were numerous places of power (Shaman rock art) in the communal tribal areas, and when the tribe actually lived in these areas, all non-Shamans avoided walking close to them and never looked directly at them. And he told me where to find them.
Where to find Rock Art –
From the recent thread on secret places, it is obvious I do not share secret places. However, if you are interested in exploring these places, here is some information to get you started. Earlier I mentioned the Coso mountains. This area probably contains the greatest rock art site in North America, and it is located within the Naval Base near Ridgecrest, so it is heavily protected. Some of the art is close to 20,000 years old and some just a few hundred. However you can arrange a tour through the local museum in Ridgecrest (I forgot the name). It is a full day tour with a guide. From what I remember there is somewhat an expensive fee. So check with them.
There are several outstanding sites near Bishop. Location is difficult to find in public sources. They are all on BLM land. Used to be that if you went to the Bishop BLM Field Office (not sure if they still have an office there), they would provide you directions… and sometimes not, depends upon whether they trusted you, I guess. The idea is that this is how they will limit visitations to these areas, since the BLM has limited resources to protect them.
Joshua Tree National Park. Lots of sites there. It will be up to you to find them. However, many are near some of the most popular parts of the park. The secret is to look for boulders that are brown in color. The brown is what we call desert varnish. Shamans used these rocks because they were easy to chisel off the varnish to expose the lighter color rock. So in areas of granite and red rock, be on the lookout for boulders covered in desert varnish, especially in formation that look like a place of power. If there is or was a water source nearby (think dry spring), it might be the place too look. These boulders may be covered by shrubs and brush.
Corn Springs. Well know BLM area, it is on their Website and there is a primitive BLM campground at the spring.
Art, Vandals, and Trash
Here are some pictures from the Corn Springs Area.
Artifacts? Yes 1957 is more than 50 years old. Appropriate? Well some ignorance on the part of these two. Notice the desert varnish and part of “57” has fallen off. Do not touch, rub against, or even spray water on rocks to get a better picture.
Notice Blythe 46 in the center. Also note the deliberate vandalism at top center where someone has chiseled their name on top of the rock art.
Close up of vandalism.
This one might depict the 3 phases of the Shaman’s journey.
Trash near the cabin of a couple gold miners, who built it in the early 40’s. Not sure if this is their dump, because I found many bottles and cans that had Zip Codes on them. The Indians did not litter, because they had few material possessions, because like UL backpackers they kept their pack weights as low as possible.