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.
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.”
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.
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.