Dean M. Chriss
(Click image to enlarge)
Shown here is a small part of the most significant rock art site in North
America. Approximately eighty larger than life figures stretch roughly 300 feet
along the wall of a remote desert canyon. The effort required to create such a
large and prominent display was tremendous so the figures must have have great
meaning. The creators of this work and their culture vanished thousands of years
ago, and with them went our ability to understand any message they were trying
to convey. These ancient figures have become time travelers from a different
age, carrying a message through the millennia that can no longer be understood.
Archeologists think these pictographs were created during the later part of
America's Archaic period, which lasted from around 8000 to 1000 BCE. They
are typically five or six feet tall, with the tallest being twelve feet in
height. Small figures, only a few inches high are interspersed among them.
The figures were created with several different colors, the most fade
resistant and durable being red ocher, made from a form of iron oxide. The
paints were applied in various ways, including spraying from the mouth,
applying with fingers, and carving lines through previously painted areas.
Colors like as green and white are still visible, but they have deteriorated
more than the red. Although somewhat sheltered, this artwork is exposed to
direct sunlight and temperature extremes, in addition to wind blown rain and
sand. The fact that they still exist is a testament to the abilities of the
The ancient ruins and rock art present here and in other areas is irreplaceable, priceless, and fragile.
The act of entering a ruin can deteriorate it more a hundred years of sitting undisturbed. Touching rock art,
even lightly and only once, causes eventual staining from oils that are present in human skin. Small things
have huge impacts over time that spans thousands of years. If you are fortunate enough to visit one of these
places, please be extremely careful, respectful, and leave it exactly as you found it.