Desert Queen Petroglyphs (Joshua Tree National Park)

I’ve always thought of Joshua Tree National Park as being heavy on pictographs, but not so much on petroglyphs. A few months ago I sat down with the park’s archaeologist, and mentioned this in conversation.  He sort of looked at me like I was smoking crack, while informing me that I was incorrect in my assessment. Of course being the park’s archaeologist, he couldn’t say anything in regard to where said copious amounts of petroglyphs could be found. The comment did however tell me that I was missing something, and I’d have to look a little harder and deeper.

The Desert Queen Mine was one of Bill Keys’ mining properties, despite the fact that very little actually remains of the old mine site, today it is touted as one of the many attractions of Joshua Tree. I have hiked in this vicinity over the past few years on several occasions, usually making my way to the better preserved Eagle Cliff Mine. For whatever reason I never considered the area as a possible hot spot for petroglyphs or pictographs, so I never extensively searched the region.

I was recently looking through archaeological records from the 1970’s and 80’s, when I came across the mention of petroglyphs in the Desert Queen Mine area. Of course the information given was the watered down “public” version, with coordinates and maps having been withdrawn. Without that information it left a massive area that these petroglyphs could be located in.

 

I spy petroglyphs!

I spy petroglyphs!

 

A lone "rake" design.

A lone “rake” design.

 

This panel is very easy to miss. You can't see it from the ground. Note that several of the symbols are similar to those in the above images.

This panel is very easy to miss. You can’t see it from the ground. Note that several of the symbols are similar to those in the above images.

 

With boots on the ground, and a ten minute walk from the Pine City/Desert Queen Mine backcountry board, I was looking at petroglyphs. Along the top of an outcropping of boulders I spied a few roughly pecked designs.  I climbed up a stack of boulders to get a closer look, as I turned around there was a beautiful panel at the very tip-top of the opposite outcropping. Several of the symbols mirrored what I was seeing on the other panel – a couple of “rake” designs, and a series of bunched up circles. There was also a hand print, and what is typically regarded to as a water symbol.

I searched every nook of the shallow alcove for anything that may be hidden. Just as I was finishing, I noted a couple of small designs sticking out from behind a desert holly shrub. I investigated closer, poking my head into the bush, and discovering a beautiful petroglyph panel of two anthropomorphic figures, a “rake” design, more water symbols, and what I refer to as a bighorn sheep head.  In the same vicinity I located a nice grinding slick in the bedrock.

I then proceed to spend the next four hours wandering washes, climbing boulders, and sticking my head into many pack-rat nests, only to find nothing more. What I did find, I was very impressed with. Most likely these petroglyphs were created several hundred to thousands of years ago by the Serrano or Cahuilla Indians.

 

Spotting these two small petroglyphs allowed me to locate a panel further hidden behind a desert holly shrub.

Spotting these two small petroglyphs allowed me to locate a panel further hidden behind a desert holly shrub.

 

The hidden panel. These designs are very large. The anthropomorphic figures are at least two feet tall. The symbol in the middle very much reminds me of a bighorn sheep head.

The hidden panel. These designs are very large. The anthropomorphic figures are at least two feet tall. The symbol in the middle very much reminds me of a bighorn sheep head.

 

A nearby grinding slick

A nearby grinding slick

 

 

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.

Leave a Comment