Coyote Hole Petroglyphs {REBOOT}

Joshua Tree's, Coyote Hole.

Joshua Tree’s, Coyote Hole.

 

It has been over a year since I first visited Coyote Hole, a “rock art” site in Quail Springs Wash. The site, located just a couple of miles from downtown Joshua Tree is a well-known location among locals, but visited by only a handful of the over one-million visitors annually to Joshua Tree National Park.

When I first visited Coyote Hole, I found a petroglyph site in distress. Graffiti laced the granite walls, trash was scattered from one end of the wash to the other, illegal fire pits, and broken glass throughout. The wash was a troubling site to see, it was being utilized for parties, and OHV activities.

It is unfortunate, but Coyote Hole has been a site under attack by the “uniformed” for a lot longer than just a few years. In the 1960s, the Army Corps of Engineers blasted away a majority of the lower level petroglyphs, and used the stone for the construction of a drainage canal beneath a local highway.

 

Coyote Hole - Petroglyphs and graffiti.

Coyote Hole – Petroglyphs and graffiti.

 

Coyote Hole - These petroglyphs at one time had been painted over. Thanks to the efforts of someone the petroglyphs have mostly been restored.

Coyote Hole – These petroglyphs at one time had been painted over. Thanks to the efforts of someone the petroglyphs have mostly been restored.

 

I am happy to report that many of the problems have been rectified under the watchful eye of a group that call themselves “Friends of Coyote Hole,” in partnership with the Mojave Desert Land Trust. These two groups along with good neighboring citizens have stepped up to the task of patrolling the sacred site, and performing regular clean ups.

The trash, and a majority of the broken glass is gone, there are no longer vehicle tracks leading up and down the wash, and there is no new graffiti. Part of this may be attributed to Miriam Seger, a property owner, which owns land adjacent to Coyote Hole. Her efforts have included the installment of a fence along her property, closing access to Coyote Hole via lower Quail Springs Wash.

The land in which the petroglyphs are located is owned by San Bernardino County. The county obtained the land with the original intention of using it for flood control, but due to public outcry it never has been. The county is looking for an organization to take the land on, and to protect it.  As recent as December of 2014, it has been mentioned that a likely party is the Native American Land Conservancy, an intertribal group which, among other activities, acquires “threatened cultural landscapes.”

 

Coyote Hole - A very nice panel consisting of meandering squiggles, dots, and lines.

Coyote Hole – A very nice panel consisting of meandering squiggles, dots, and lines.

 

Coyote Hole - A singular mortar, in a nearby side wash.

Coyote Hole – A singular mortar, in a nearby side wash.

 

Coyote Hole - A mortar surrounded by a circle of stone. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that the stone circle is NOT part of the original setting.

Coyote Hole – A mortar surrounded by a circle of stone. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that the stone circle is NOT part of the original setting.

 

The petroglyphs at Coyote Hole have been attributed to the Serrano people. The Serrano, are considered the original inhabitants of the region, including the Oasis of Mara, which is located fifteen miles due east of Coyote Hole. The Cahuilla were also known to inhabit, and travel in the high desert regions at an early period.  The Chemehuevi didn’t arrive in the region until historic times, having been pushed out of their territory after a war with the Colorado River based Mohave Tribe.

The petroglyph designs have been identified as Great Basin Abstract Style, a style that dates back to 8,000 BC, and is noted for its abstract curvilinear designs. While the curvilinear designs are indeed the most represented “style” at Coyote Hole, there are also rectilinear. The rectilinear designs are believed to have not been introduced until around 3,000 BC.  These facts likely date the site to between 4,000 – 3,000 BC.

 

Coyote Hole: A majority of the petroglyph designs are curvilinear.

Coyote Hole: A majority of the petroglyph designs are curvilinear.

 

Coyote Hole: An incredible panel, situated high on the cliff side. Several atlatl in the upper right corner.

Coyote Hole: An incredible panel, situated high on the cliff side. Several atlatl in the upper right corner.

 

 

The most intriguing panels of petroglyphs are located roughly fifty feet above the floor of the wash. Thankfully these designs appear to have escaped the hands of vandalism, due to their extreme difficulty to reach.  Images of “digital” anthropomorphs (human figures), atlatls (a primitive type of spear, which predates the bow and arrow), dots, rakes, and an assortment of other designs adorn the high cliffs.

There are at least two pictograph (painted not pecked) designs located in Coyote Hole. Both are located within the same vicinity, and both are faded to the point that they would likely not be noticed by someone without a trained eye. Their fading is more than likely due to their exposure to the elements, and not from vandalism. Because of the extreme vulnerability of painted designs, these pictographs likely date to no more than 200 years old.

Coyote Hole is a fabulous “rock art” site, once you get past the years of disrespect that it has been a victim of.  Here’s to the continuing efforts of all of those involved in cleaning up, and maintaining this sacred site.

 

Coyote Hole: One of two pictograph panels. This panel contains two anthropomorphic figures, a long meandering line, scratches, and what appears to be a zoomorphic figure. Colors have been enhanced to bring out the badly faded design.

Coyote Hole: One of two pictograph panels. This panel contains two anthropomorphic figures, a long meandering line, scratches, and what appears to be a zoomorphic figure. Colors have been enhanced to bring out the badly faded design.

 

Coyote Hole: The town of Joshua Tree, as seen from Coyote Hole.

Coyote Hole: The town of Joshua Tree, as seen from Coyote Hole.

 

 

 

 

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.

4 Comments

  • Thank you for this informative post. Coyote Hole is indeed a special spot. I was heartsick the last time I walked back and saw the level of vandalism. I hope that the vigilance of concerned locals can help combat this scourge.

  • My first visit to Coyote Hole was over 50 years ago. I been there a couple of times in the last few years and was pretty disappointed. The last time, it was looking a bit better. I can’t remember if I read this, or somebody told me, but, apparently there are a lot of petroglyphs below ground level, that have been covered by rising levels of silt. I have no idea if it’s true or not. Good photos Jim. I agree about the rock circle, and a few of the stones, are pretty interesting looking anyway. Nice re-visit Jim. Great photos!

  • This really makes my heart full…As a teen, I was introduced to the sight by some of my dearest friends..It was such a different mindset back then. We would throw some crazy parties, but EVERYONE who was still there the next morning would always pack any trash and evidence of our presence. We had a profound respect for that area and would bomb on anyone who was deliberately trying to inflict harm upon it. We knew how special it was. Some of my life’s greatest experiences happened back at the Hole. Most I will never forget
    It was heartbreaking to see it the shape that it was in last time I hiked back there. It’s tragic to see such a complete breakdown in the attitudes toward this place and the desert up there in general. Sad to say that the area has been infiltrated by a stream citified youth who think nothing of such destruction and see the area as some some giant garbage can.
    I applaud the efforts of all involved in the restoration. I know its a painstaking effort at that. I wish this place could always be accesible to people wanting to enjoy its beauty, but I can’t help but wonder if the price of the restoration will have to be the sight’s inaccessibility to protect it.
    When I visit California again I will have to stop by and pay my great respects to the beautiful….Coyote Hole.

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