Black Tank Wash & Aiken Arch Petroglyphs/Pictographs (Mojave National Preserve)

Black Tank Wash is situated in the Aiken Cinder Cone field, in the northwest section of the Mojave National Preserve.  It runs southwest, for roughly 12-miles, through the Cinder Cone field. The wash lies between ten to twenty-foot vertical basalt walls. The setting is picturesque, with black lava beds, and cinder cones surrounding the area. The area is mostly wilderness, with Aiken Mine Road, being the only vehicular access to the heart of the wilderness.

The cinder cones are essentially “little” volcanos. Researchers believe that they began erupting 7.6 million years ago. The last lava flow being as recent as 10,000 years ago. The Aiken Cinder Cone field was made, Cinder Cone National Natural Landmark, in 1973.

 

Aiken Arch

Aiken Arch in Black Tank Wash

 

Aiken Arch, a natural arch, which is located in Black Tank Wash was formed by the lava flow thousands of years ago. Under the arch, there are both red and white (red is the dominating color) pictographs, mostly geometric designs, but some anthropomorphs. Some of the pictographs are still vibrant even after having been in the elements for possibly hundreds or thousands of years.

 

Pictographs under Aiken Arch, Black Tank Wash

Pictographs under Aiken Arch, Black Tank Wash

 

For roughly a half mile, in either direction of the arch, along the basalt walls, are hundreds of petroglyphs. The petroglyphs have been identified as being from both Archaic times (the second period of human occupation in the Americas, from around 8000 to 2000 BC), as well as more recent Numic (Native American ancestors of the Ute, Paiute and Shoshone, who are thought to have moved into the Great Basin of the United States from California about AD 1000).

 

Designs that are in rows of dots, are usually attributed to Archaic times (8000 to 2000 B.C.).

Designs that are in rows of dots, are usually attributed to Archaic times (8000 to 2000 B.C.).

 

More recent, Numic designs. The Numic designs are brighter than the Archaic designs, they have not had the opportunity to repatinate.

More recent, Numic designs. The Numic designs are brighter than the Archaic designs, they have not had the opportunity to repatinate.

 

The Native people were likely attracted to this particular location, because of the natural arch. Many Native cultures around the world view a natural rock arch, as a source of numinous power. The petroglyphs and pictographs that have been created here, may very well tell the stories of this power. Or possibly they had been placed here to invoke that power. We will likely never know.

 

Interested in visiting this site?

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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.

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