There they were in front of us, the panels which have been called “the most important rock painting in the United States,” the panels were huge, several yards high and wide, mostly painted in red, white, and black. At one time the panels were beautiful, however now destroyed, desecrated, and disrespected by selfish and self-centered Europeans that lacked any form of respect for beliefs and cultures outside of their Christian upbringing.
Most of the vandalism at Painted Rock took place between the 1870s and 1960s, a majority of which occurred earlier rather than later. Stories have been told of early settlers in the region utilizing the horseshoe-shaped alcove as a Sunday afternoon picnic area, which included taking target practice at the largest, and most elaborate panels. Then there are the hundreds of etched names and dates; a complete catalog of self-absorbed, self-righteous assholes. There is also evidence of the paint literally being chipped off of the stone. All in all, an archeological nightmare, and a slap in the face to the Chumash, Salinan and Yokuts cultures. Fortunately there are photographs taken of the panels prior to their mass destruction, however few. Archeologist and author, Campbell Grant, was able to recreate an artist rendition of the panels based on these early images in his book, “The Rock Paintings of the Chumash“.
Fortunately not all has been lost, we found that many of the smaller, scattered panels throughout the horseshoe to still be intact and only to have fallen victim to the natural elements. Many of the overhangs and small crevices in the sandstone contain their fair share of these painted elements. Watching the ground closely we also located several chunks of red ochre, which is made from the mineral hematite. While hematite can be found locally in the Monument, the pieces found within the horseshoe were more than likely utilized in creating the pictographs that adorn the walls. We enjoyed the opportunity to hold in our hands a part of what had helped make this place so very special, but left it for others to enjoy in the same manner.
The spiritual vibe that many had described to me in regard to Painted Rock was nonexistent, possibly because of the anger and hatred in my heart for the people who had selfishly destroyed such an important and beautiful piece of a culture that at the time was so “misunderstood.” As we hiked away, I found myself wishing that I had never come here, and vowed that I would never return. The thought ran through my mind that maybe my critics are right, that discussing and sharing these irreplaceable cultural resources with the public shouldn’t be done. I called bullshit on myself quickly, reminding myself that the vandalism at Painted Rock happened long before the public was educated on the subject matter. Despite what some would like us to believe, vandalism at these types of sites has fallen significantly since the 1970s, and for the large part tapered off over the last fifteen years (minus a handful of isolated incidents).
From Painted Rock, we hiked out along the northern Selby Rocks. The northern portion of these sandstone outcroppings are spread out over a mile (the way the crow flies) across the otherwise barren plain. We spent the remaining part of the day hiking from outcropping to outcropping, ducking into ever possible overhang to look for pictographs, and to escape the brutal rays of the afternoon sun. In every outcropping we would discover either pictographs and/or mortars, nothing as significant as what had once graced the walls of Painted Rock, however there was no shortage of sites that would take my breath away. Thankfully the Selby north sites had for the most part escaped the vandalism that plagued Painted Rock.
It had been a long day of heat exposure, and it was time to return to the Jeep. We made the decision to not spend another night in the campground, instead return to my partner’s home in Simi Valley. His lack of sleep the night prior had left him exhausted, and with a headache for a majority of the day. Hiking out, we stopped one last time at Painted Rock for a quick break from the sun. Entering the horseshoe for that second time, the atmosphere was different. A bright yellow sunflower growing in the middle of the alcove grabbed my attention, along with hundreds of butterflies that fluttered around us, causing a feeling of peace and happiness to overwhelm me. The spirit had found me, and allowed me to gaze upon it, and for that I am grateful. We sat for the next thirty minutes, soaking in the positive vibes before departing for the last half-mile of the hike.
Driving toward the exit we again passed a herd of elk frolicking across the plain, bringing images to mind of a time before “my people” settled this region, before we created a so-called “advanced” civilization. A time where people and animals were truly free, and happiness came from simple, meaningful things. Carrizo Plain National Monument is special despite the gross atrocity that happened to Painted Rock.