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, 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.
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).
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?
GUIDE SERVICE OPTION: Jim’s Guide Service may be the right choice for you. Jim can provide you with a single day to multiday rock art tours throughout the Mojave Desert. Visit the guide website for more details.
BOOK OPTION: Black Tank Wash & Aiken Arch Petroglyphs/Pictographs are featured in Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. IV. Detailed maps, and GPS coordinates are included. Order your copy now.