Dragon Wash Petroglyphs (Joshua Tree National Park)

 

First and foremost, it is with great sadness that I report that I encountered no dragons during my trek of Dragon Wash. A big part of me was hoping that this is where the National Park Service kept all of their dragons, but that is apparently not so. I guess that I will have to continue my search for Puff elsewhere.

It is also worth mentioning that I had a lot of explaining to do to my wife about my plan to visit Dragon Wash. You see, in Yucca Valley there is one of those “Massage Parlors,” (you know what I’m talking about) called “Dragon Massage.” The joke between us has always been that they massage your “dragon.” So before I took of for the day, I had to assure her that I was not going somewhere to have the old “dragon” “washed” or “massaged.”

Now that I’ve turned something completely innocent into something pornographic…

 

Dragon Wash

Dragon Wash

 

Dragon Wash

Dragon Wash

 

Dragon Wash is a south draining wash in the Eagle Mountains in Joshua Tree National Park.  This was Cahuilla country, the same tribe that still makes their home to the west in and around the Coachella Valley.

Access to this region of the park is via a series of private right away roads that are maintained by Southern California Edison and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. It can be a bit confusing as to whether you are permitted to use these roads or not, but my interpretation of the signs that state “access can be revoked at any time,” means that I can use them until/unless I am told otherwise.

I had decent intelligence that I would find petroglyphs in the vicinity of Dragon Wash, but I didn’t know to what extent. I planned an 8.5 mile loop hike because I wasn’t sure exactly where I would find the panels and I didn’t want to miss anything that could be deemed important to the site.

I pulled up to the drainage around 8am, and immediately began looking along the walls of granite that surround the wash. Within a few minutes I encountered a few smaller boulders with several abstract petroglyphs pecked into them. I’m sure that you can imagine my excitement! It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but the needle hadn’t managed to get buried in the hay. It was just sitting on top, glimmering in the sunshine.

I rounded the corner to find a large boulder with a tree fallen on top of it. The boulder was covered in deeply pitted abstract petroglyph designs. Several historical inscriptions from the 1930’s were pecked into other boulders nearby. It is likely the inscriptions were left by miners, or men working on the nearby Colorado River Aqueduct.

 

The first petroglyphs that I found. A lot of lines, circles, squiggles, and a diamond shape.

The first petroglyphs that I found. A lot of lines, circles, squiggles, and a diamond shape.

 

Another look, revealing a few additional petroglyphs.

Another look, revealing a few additional petroglyphs.

 

A basket type of design on the lower right.

A basket type of design on the lower right.

 

This is the largest panel at Dragon Wash. The designs appear to me to be heavily abstract.

This is the largest panel at Dragon Wash. The designs appear to me to be heavily abstract.

 

Nearby there were several massive granite boulder shelters, but none of them had any surface evidence of having been used for such. That doesn’t rule them out as not having been used at some point, there is just no fire damage on the walls or ceiling, and no “rock art” carved or painted in or around them. There is no telling what is buried beneath several layers of soil, but that is not for me or you to find out, unless an excavation is performed by a professional with the correct permits.

The route that I had mapped out exited Dragon Wash after about a mile, and entered an unnamed canyon to the east. I routed my way through this canyon for around four miles. The wash running through the bottom was rugged with a water carved rock obstacle course.  Along the north side of the canyon I found a faint Indian trail that was so faint that it was impossible to follow for any extended length of time.

The canyon was beautiful with array of flora, ranging from Ocotillo, palo verde, barrel cactus, foxtail cactus, pencil cactus, and hedgehog cactus to name a few. But I was unable to locate any additional petroglyphs.

 

Lots of ocotillo in the unnamed canyon.

Lots of ocotillo in the unnamed canyon.

 

Faint traces of an old Indian trail.

Faint traces of an old Indian trail.

 

Looking east through the unnamed canyon.

Looking east through the unnamed canyon.

 

After exiting the canyon, I looped around to the valley and followed the rocky cliff along the outer face of the mountain for four miles back to my vehicle. I inspected every rock along the way, and found only one additional very small and crude panel of  petroglyphs near where I had started the hike.

It is needless to say, but I could have seen just about everything that there was to see without the long hike. But you know, that is ok. I had the opportunity to spend the day hiking through a canyon that rarely if ever sees any foot traffic, and there could have been something there, and I wouldn’t know any different if I hadn’t of hiked it.

 

The final find of the day. A small, crude panel of petroglyphs.

The final find of the day. A small, crude panel of petroglyphs.

 

As for the petroglyphs, it is hard to say why this specific location was chosen. Without the ability to read the designs, we will probably never know. It is likely that there was never a permanent camp here, as there is no evidence of such. This was likely just a stop along the way to and from the Colorado River.

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.