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Rock Art Around Las Vegas
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Amazing Rock Art: What does it mean? The native peoples who lived around Las Vegas hundreds and thousands of years ago created some amazing rock art. It is thought that much of their artwork was related to religious practices or annual rituals, but the true meanings of the art are lost to history. Today we can only stand in awe at the skill and imagination of the people who lived here long ago.

Two Basic Types: Petroglyphs and Pictographs. Petroglyphs are images pecked or carved into the rock surface, usually by removing the dark surface coating (desert varnish) to reveal lighter-colored underlying rock. Pictographs are art made by painting on the rocks using plant and mineral pigments. Occasionally, the two types are found together.

Rock Art Sites. There are many rock art sites around southern Nevada. All rock art is an irreplaceable treasure, and because modern humans have a long history of damaging the artwork, experts consider many sites too sensitive to make the locations generally available. In that spirit, I only describe rock art at publicly known sites. I know of many sites, and other people know of far more, but these are excellent examples that have been made public by government agencies. To see pictures of other rock art around Las Vegas, visit Petroglyph Bob's website. He has dedicated his life to documenting rock art sites around Las Vegas and making his photos available to researchers and the public -- just don't ask him for locations!

New or Old: How to tell? Modern humans have added their marks to the rocks, often damaging existing rock art. Usually modern marks are obviously new, but sometimes it can be hard to tell. Look for the quality of the work and the regrowth of desert varnish. More

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Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area

There are a number of very nice petroglyph sites at Red Rocks. A few good sites are located in Willow Springs Canyon. There are nice petroglyphs on the west side of the canyon on Petroglyph Wall, and there are nice pictographs (hand paintings) on the east side of the canyon along the Willow Springs Loop Trail. There are good examples of agave roasting-pits in the area too. The trail to the petroglyphs is about 0.1 miles long, and the pictographs are a 30-second walk on a paved trail east of the small outhouse in the picnic area. The Willow Springs Loop Trail passed additional rock art sites. Calico Basin also has some nice rock art along the new boardwalk.

The underlying rock here is red and white sandstone.

Grapevine Canyon Petroglyphs

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are some truly amazing petroglyph sites at Lake Mead. Two such sites are Grapevine Canyon (near Laughlin) and Keyhole Canyon south of Boulder City. The hike to Grapevine Canyon is about 0.3 miles.

The underlying rocks here are granite.

Sloan Canyon

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

Sloan Canyon, proper, is located on the south edge of the Las Vegas Valley, just south of Henderson. The Sloan Canyon Archaeological District is one of the most important cultural sites in Southern Nevada with some 300 rock art panels and 1,700 individual petroglyphs that were created by native cultures from the Archaic to historic era. Roads are almost nonexistent and trails are few, but during winter, full-sun hikes at Sloan Canyon NCA can be warm and delightful.

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Lincoln County Archaeological Sites (Alamo-Hiko area)

In the upper Pahranagat Valley (about 110 miles north of Las Vegas), six BLM rock art sites were popularized by the Lincoln County Department of Tourism with the publication of a 55-page brochure about the area (including GPS data).

The sites are: Mt. Irish, Ash Springs, Shooting Gallery, Crystal Wash Entrance and Crystal Wash Main, White River Narrows, and Rainbow Canyon (south of Caliente). The sites include extensive boulder field panels and cliff face panels. Access roads can be rough (Shooting Gallery is 4WD), but visitors in sedans can drive up to some wondrous petroglyphs. Another interesting site is the Crystal Wash Shepard's Camp.

The underlying rock here is consolidated volcanic ash (mostly ash-flow welded tuff [rhyolite]).

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Valley of Fire State Park

As with other areas around Las Vegas, there are some great petroglyph sites at Valley of Fire. Atlatl Rock and Mouse's Tank are excellent sites with easy access. The paved road runs up to the base of Atlatl Rock, and the petroglyphs begin a short walk down the Mouse's Tank Trail.

The underlying rock here is dark red sandstone.

Gold Butte

Gold Butte Region

Gold Butte Region is a wild and remote region with high peaks, low valleys, grand views, lots of history, mixed up geology, and huge solitude. It might be easier to just say that Gold Butte is an adventure. Parts of this remarkable area are covered with petroglyphs. Some of the easiest sites to visit are in the Falling Man Site and Whitney Pocket areas. The Mud Wash Panel is easy to get to in a high-clearance vehicle. Other rock art sites are hidden away at the end of hiking adventures.

The underlying rock here is red and white sandstone.

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve

There are several interesting rock art sites in Mojave National Preserve. One such site is located along the Rings Loop Trail near the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor Center. The artwork is mostly representational and very old, but there is one newer bighorn glyph.

Arrow Canyon Wilderness Area

Arrow Canyon Wilderness Area

There are several interesting rock art sites in the Arrow Canyon Wilderness Area, but none are available for public disclosure. To see these panels, hikers must spend some time out and about in the wilderness. Rock art in this area is interesting because most are on limestone where there is no desert varnish patina to peck off. Others are carved into relatively soft mudstone deposits.

 
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© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 140423

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