Little Petroglyph Canyon in the Coso Mountains
28 Sept 2002
'Little Pet' Canyon is a notch in Wildhorse Mesa on the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center near Ridgecrest CA. Our own Northrop Backpacking Club sponsored this day event for Northrop employees and their families. Guided by the people at Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, this special trip allowed us to see this very remote and amazing concentration of rock art. Due to this area's ownership by the US Navy, access is strictly controlled. We scheduled this trip last September but after the attacks on the 11th the Defense Dept halted this kind of public visitation to military bases. But this year they scaled back a little on the security controls and we got on.
This one little canyon supposedly has about 6000 petroglyphs in it. It has been called the largest concentration of rock art in North America if not the Western Hemisphere, and the area has other canyons with lots of art too. There are obsidian tool flakes, some grinding metates and pictographs in this canyon as well. The amazing part is the age of some of the petroglyphs: many have been dated to 10,000 to16,000 years old!! When some of them were made at the close of the Pleistocene epoch, the climate in the Mojave was very different than today. It was much wetter and cooler here then, more of a lush savannah, and supported life for many prehistoric mammals that are now extinct. Lake beds that today bake and crack under the sun were then huge inland basin-lakes filled with water. And people lived here!! This place has a record of habitation and visitation spanning HUNDREDS of generations.
These were Paiute-Shoshone-speaking people, it is thought. Current consensus held by those who've spent their lives and academic careers studying Coso rock art is that shamanism is responsible for the 'WHY' of these images, but that's not a universally-held or all-inclusive framework of explanation, and though I'm not an expert, for lots of reasons I can see why.
The pictures below are just a miniscule sample of the
rock art. Though only 3 miles in length this hike lasts several hours
because of the volume of images. I won't even try to post MOST of
the pictures I took.
Here's a good representation, this panel is covered by images of sheep.
We have a group size of 16 for this trip. Here some of our attendees view some panels
Another image with sheep.
Lots of the rock art was high above the wash
A random collection of images here