Alister’s Cave Pictographs (Joshua Tree National Park) {REBOOT}

Alister’s Cave is a Native American pictograph and petroglyph site in the Wonderland of Rocks area of Joshua Tree National Park. Located a short distance from Barker Dam, and the interpretive trail which loops the area, this particular site is located within just a few minutes walk of one of the Park’s most touted attractions.

Since my first encounter with Alister’s Cave back in 2013, I have remaining intrigued by it. This site is unique for the area, most pictographs in the region were made using a single color (red or orange). On occasion black may accompany, but it is rare to see as many colors in one place as in Alister’s Cave. Here we see the use of red, orange, black, gray, white and maybe a tinge of yellow.



The number of pictograph “designs” are plentiful, with several hundred covering both the walls and ceiling of the cave (rock shelter), most of which are faded to the extent that it is difficult to make out what any particular “design” may represent. In regard to the age of the pictographs, my educated guess would place them to be one-hundred to one-hundred and fifty years old. They were most likely placed here by the Chemehuevi Tribe, who hadn’t come to this region until 1867 after a war with Mohave Indians.

Along the edge of the shelter there is a small concentration of petroglyphs. The petroglyphs appear much older, having extensive amounts of re-varnish over the pecked designs. The petroglyphs, likely a product of the Serrano Indians, who had inhabited this region for an extensive period prior to sharing the land with the Chemehuevi.

Overall Alister’s Cave remains one of this author’s favorite sites in Joshua Tree National Park. If you find it, please respect it by not touching the pictographs or petroglyphs, or disturbing the area. Take only photographs – leave only footprints.


An overview of Alister's Cave.

An overview of Alister’s Cave.


A closer look at the inner wall of the shelter. (Some enhancements to the photograph have been made to "pop" out the colors.)

A closer look at the inner wall of the shelter. (Some enhancements to the photograph have been made to “pop” out the colors.)


Petroglyphs along the outside of the shelter.

Petroglyphs along the outside of the shelter.



About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.