Crystal Wash Petroglyphs and Village Site

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Pahranagat Valley in Lincoln County Nevada, where I spent several days visiting a plethora of fascinating “rock art” and habitation sites. This having been my first trip to this region of Nevada, I was overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and quality of Native American sites in such a small area. I made my base camp in the sleepy little Mormon community of Alamo, where despite a lack of restaurants and alcoholic beverages, proved to be an excellent jumping off point, with nearly a dozen different sites to visit within a 40 mile radius.

The Native people to this region have been given the name Pahranagat people, after the valley itself, which means the land of many lakes. They are a band of the Southern Paiutes, where their name is pata’ nikici, which means ‘people who stick his feet in water.’ They along with other hunter-gatherers are believed to have inhabit the region for upwards of 12,000 years. These people hunted for game, such as bighorn sheep, deer, rabbit, bird, and even rodent.   Collecting of seeds, roots, tubers, and berries were collected for food from the valley floor. The Pahranagat also farmed, growing maze (corn), squash, sunflowers, beans, pumpkins, lamb’s quarters, and wheat.

Crystal Wash is thought to have been a winter village for the Pahranagat. The large boulders that are strung along the banks of the wash would have provided shelter, and a gathering place for the village members. Winter months were looked upon as a time of rest, and community togetherness. Story-telling, gambling, and visiting were just a few of the winter past-times. Based on evidence such as lithic scatter (or stone chippings) that can still be seen today at Crystal Wash, winter was also a significant time for the creation of arrow points, stone knives, scrapers, along with other stone tools.

 

Archaeologists believe that this panel of anthropomorphic figures represents the coming together of the tribe at one location.

Archaeologists believe that this panel of anthropomorphic figures represents the coming together of the tribe at one location.

 

Classic bighorn sheep depictions.

Classic bighorn sheep depictions.

 

There is a significant amount of “rock art” that can seen at Crystal Wash, the predominating style being the Great Basin Pecked Style (petroglyphs). In addition there are faint traces of the Great Basin Painted Style (pictographs), as well as Pit-and-groove (cupules).

At one time the Ely BLM had mapped out the “rock art” at Crystal Wash, creating a walking tour. For the most part much of the trail system has disappeared from changes in the landscape due to flash flooding. A majority of the village site and petroglyphs can however be found a quarter of a mile west of the designated parking area, among the large granite boulders that fill the landscape. Within what is described as a “triangle” you will find all the elements that I have previously mentioned.

 

A very busy panel containing a significant amount of petroglyphs, and traces of orange pigment from pictograph designs.

A very busy panel containing a significant amount of petroglyphs, and traces of orange pigment from pictograph designs.

 

Close up of the lower left hand portion of the above panel. You can clearly see traces of the orange pigment.

Close up of the lower left hand portion of the above panel. You can clearly see traces of the orange pigment.

 

The most significant panel of petroglyph designs at Crystal Wash shows a large gathering of people. Archaeologists believe that this may have been placed at a location within the village that members came together to hear a chief speak, or to take instruction from on top of the tall set of boulders. The theory is an interesting one, and very likely could be accurate. However I tend to be very skeptical of interpretation without deeper proof.

The bighorn sheep is well represented throughout Crystal Wash, there are also sun motifs, and other anthropomorphic figures.  Abstract lines are however the dominating feature.

 

 

Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. 7

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.

  • pat

    Great photos of what looks to be an interesting and old place.