Petroglyph Canyon, China Lake NWS, CA

Experiencing the Native Indian Culture

September, 1999

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The Trip

I had heard rumors about a tour that went to a place called "Little Petroglyph Canyon" that had great, very well preserved indian pictographs, sometimes called petroglyphs.  The catch was that the canyon was on the China Lake Naval Weapons Station (NWS) and access was granted only through structured tours.  A little web searching revealed that the Maturango Museum hosted these tours. We signed up, but they were booked for months.  They only offer the trip during spring and fall months due to the heat and cold of the upper Mohave desert.  We were lucky enough to go before they closed the base due to 9/11.  The Maturango web site suggests that they are open again, for a fee (as before).  This is a great trip and is highly recommended should you be interested in such things.  Sadly, China Lake is close to nothing.  But, it is near the city of Ridgecrest where there are hotels and resturants.

The tour leaves the museum early in the day and then does a car caravan to the classified areas of the base.  From there, we head over the Coso Range into the backcountry areas and from there into Little Petroglyph Canyon.  The tour is fully escorted in that you must stay with the group and the guides have military radios.  But, hassle not withstanding, there is just no other way to see these archeological treasures. 

Once you arrive in the parking area for the canyon, you hike down a narrow wash where you will see several miles of well preserved petroglyphs.  As fate would have it, I had a hard drive crash that deleted a good portion of the best photos.  These are what remain.  As some say, "Backup or shut-up".

Near the entrance, note the "pecking" marks in the rock.

They dig into the so-called desert patina in the rock surface.

Lots of marks on this face.

Not sure why this surface was so appealing.






The canyon ended in this great view of the valley below.

Looking down, it was a huge cliff (aka waterfall should there be rain).

Speaking of rain, there are thunderstorms building in the east.  Time to go!

Ted Dunning and Bill look over the cliff edge.



So what, exactly, are these?  Being a guy, I could guess, but they are likely snakes.

Working our way back up the canyon.

The rock art just goes on and on.

Note the cloven hooves.  Clearly a desert sheep.

Women in skirts?


Symbol of what?

A view from the parking area.  The upper Mohave is quite barren.

One of the drivers in our group fell asleep at the wheel and rolled his car.  He was hurt.

The China Lake military police came.  The guide called them on the radio.

Slow day in China Lake.  They sent everthing they had.

A special equipment hauling tracked vehicle.  Very odd. Look at the hitch at the back.

Aside from the accident and the long drive, this is a good excursion and highly recommended for those who are into archeological kinds of things.  This site is one of a kind within the western U.S.


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Copyright Bill Caid 2004