Blackrock Well Petroglyphs (Death Valley National Park)

A smorgasbord of petroglyphs - and yes, more sheep...
Lee Flat

Lee Flat

 

It was the first morning, of a several day Death Valley excursion – Blackrock Well was the first location on our agenda. The night prior, my exploration partner and I drove in from Joshua Tree. We  arrived at the Buckhorn Boxcar Cabin, a couple of hours after dark. We made camp there that evening, sleeping outside of the cabin – but utilizing the adjacent fire ring to keep warm. It was mid-October, and a chill was in the air – temperatures overnight dipped into the lower 40s, it was eye-opening as to what we would experience in the following days.

We awoke the next morning as the sun rose – we both grumbled about leaving the warmth of our sleeping bags, but we eventually managed and were on our way. From the campsite, our drive wasn’t far – a few miles down Saline Valley Road,  a left at the Y in the road at White Mountain Talc Road, and badda-bing.

From where we parked the Jeep, we had a several mile hike across Lee Flat – an area known for its Joshua Tree forest. The hike across the valley proved to be uneventful – consisting entirely of dodging Joshua Trees, cholla cactus, and sagebrush. As we neared the canyon, in which we were to ascend – basalt rock began to litter the landscape across the valley floor. I studied the basalt boulders, as we passed them by – looking for any sort of alignments, circles, or evidence of use as a grinding slick, or metate. I was disappointed, after not finding any of the aforementioned – but that disappointment would soon disappear.

Blackrock Well - One of the first of many crude panels found in the wash before reaching the well.

Blackrock Well – One of the first of many crude panels found in the wash before reaching the well.

 

Blackrock Well - Early travelers had little respect for Native American petroglyphs.

Blackrock Well – Early travelers had little respect for Native American petroglyphs.

 

Blackrock Well - Scratched petroglyph designs. Dr. Alan Garfinkel Gold, has done research, which suggests that scratched panels were created by females.

Blackrock Well – Scratched petroglyph designs. Dr. Alan Garfinkel Gold, has done research, which suggests that scratched panels were created by females.

 

We dropped down into the wash, which would led us to Blackrock Well – here is where we would begin to find evidence of the early inhabitants of the area. The basalt along the lower portion of the wash wasn’t the typical surface that petroglyphs are known to adorn. As opposed to flat surfaces, the basalt here was chunky, knobby, and pitted from air bubbles in the lava as it dried.  That didn’t stop this band or bands of Native people from leaving their mark, but due to the surface material, many of the designs are difficult to make out. In additional to Native petroglyphs, there are several modern era inscriptions, left by early miners and travelers – sometimes directly over top of the ancient petroglyphs.

Over the course of the next half-mile, we continued to locate these rough panels of petroglyphs along the wash.

Once reaching the site of Blackrock Well – my jaw dropped. I have been privileged to see many incredible petroglyph panels over the years, but nothing had prepared me for the gallery walls of Blackrock Well.

Blackrock Well - Cupules, and a large mortar. Camera lens cap provided to demonstrate size.

Blackrock Well – Cupules, and a large mortar. Camera lens cap provided to demonstrate size.

 

Large petroglyph covered boulder.

Large petroglyph covered boulder.

 

Some of these designs, maybe the oldest in the area. There are several atlatl designs, which likely date before 200 BC.

Some of these designs, maybe the oldest in the area. There are several atlatl designs, which likely date before 200 BC.

 

Sheep, sheep, everywhere sheep!

Sheep, sheep, everywhere sheep!

 

Sheep, sheep, everywhere sheep! The only place that I had ever seen this many sheep petroglyphs, was in the Coso Mountain Range; thirty miles south of where I was presently standing. It all does make sense, the early petroglyphs at Blackrock Well, match the “Coso style,” making this the most northern known site of the Coso People. The Coso People, are known to have had an extreme fascination with the bighorn sheep. Some archeologist have gone so far as to call them, the “Coso Sheep Worshiping Cult.”

The differences between the petroglyph panels at Blackrock Well, and those at Renegade Canyon (located on China Lake – Naval Air Weapons Station) are great. The boat like bighorn sheep designs, and shamanistic figures are not present at Blackrock Well – they are older, possibly much older. The presence of atlatl (dart-throwing device) designs, dates this site to pre-200 B.C. (around the time that the atlatl was no longer used, in favor of the bow and arrow)- in all actuality, it is possible that the Coso People had been utilizing Blackrock Well as far back as 8,000 B.C..

Early Coso-style sheep designs.

Early Coso-style sheep designs.

 

A smorgasbord of petroglyphs - and yes, more sheep...

A smorgasbord of petroglyphs – and yes, more sheep…

 

Jim, enjoying the massive panel of petroglyphs.

Jim, enjoying the massive panel of petroglyphs.

 

A very interesting panel - the design on the left, the bottom portion is deeply pitted - something that I haven't come across anywhere else.

A very interesting panel – the design on the left, the bottom portion is deeply pitted – something that I haven’t come across anywhere else.

 

This also leads me to believe that the Coso People didn’t originate out of the Coso Range – but rather, from further north, having migrated to the Cosos. While I am speculating, I will go a step further – the most southern known site of the Coso People, is the Terese Village site in the El Paso Mountain Range. It is very possible that once these people’s resources vanished in the Coso Range, they migrated to the El Paso Mountains – which is where their existence ended – or possibly evolved, becoming part of the Desert Kawaiisu. Again, this is all speculation – and as far as I know, there is nothing to back this theory up.

Now that I’ve babbled on about the Coso People, I should also mention that there are also more recent designs present – suggesting that in later years, the Timbisha Shoshone, had also utilized Blackrock Well. The Timbisha Shoshone, was known to inhabit Saline Valley (as well as other areas within modern-day, DVNP) – in which this canyon drains directly into.

Whatever these people’s stories are, Blackrock Well has ultimately played an important role in people’s lives for possibly the last 10,000 years. Interesting enough, this remote desert well, has likely seen fewer human visitors in the past fifty years – than it has since its first human discovery.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs

 

Petroglyphs - I am assuming, sheep tracks.

Petroglyphs – I am assuming, sheep tracks.

 

Historic inscriptions, from area miners.

Historic inscriptions, from area miners.

 

These petroglyphs, were found high on the canyon walls.

These petroglyphs, were found high on the canyon walls.

 

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.

  • LAEVE

    Love the native art and the miners’ etchings are amazing also. I really want to go on the China Lake Naval Coso petroglyphs tour someday soon.

    • Anthony

      The tour is amazing, I’ve been 5 times.

  • Anthony

    I’ve found another site in the area near this, I think I sent you the directions a while back. I have some other potential sites to check out on the Darwin plateau in December.

    • Hmmm, I don’t think you sent me the other site. The Darwin plateau sounds exciting!

  • pat

    That is an amazing site! Part of the mystery of it all, makes it even better.

  • pat

    I keep forgetting to say that I really like your new header photo.