Echo Canyon in the Funeral Mountains has it all – from an incredible arch, towering canyon walls, to mines, ghost towns, and yes even “rock art”. In the near future I am planning a “featured report” on Echo Canyon; from the mouth of the canyon to the ghostly ruins of an unnamed mining camp in upper-Echo Canyon. For now however, we are going to take a brief look at the petroglyphs of Echo Canyon.
It is unfortunate how tight-lipped Death Valley National Park is with their archeological research. Very few research papers on the region are publicly available, which make it difficult to present the hard facts on many of these sites. In this author’s opinion this provides a disservice to the tribe, and to the general public. Overly generic or no public information leads to false assumptions, and hurts the tribal history of the region. It is also in the author’s opinion that the NPS’s failure to educate the public on “rock art” is the number one reason these sites get defaced.
Due to that lack of information available, I am going to keep my text brief.
The Echo Canyon petroglyphs can be accessed with a short half-mile hike past one of the canyon’s wilderness road closures. I can only assume, that this wilderness boundary was placed in an effort to keep people from visiting this very interesting petroglyph site. But don’t fret, wilderness only stops entry by vehicle, and foot traffic is welcome.
The hike is simple, and follows the closed dirt road in the canyon wash. Once the road peters out, just continue to follow the wash. There are no side canyons, so one’s ability to get lost is minimal. Pay particular attention to the geology, the stone is mostly jagged and upheaved out of the ground, and contains very interesting, and beautiful stripped patterns.
You’ve finally reached the petroglyphs when you round a bend, containing a number of large polished boulders in the wash. Both the north and south walls of the canyon contain petroglyphs, but the highest concentration can be found on the southern wall, above ground level on the jagged slabs of stone. The best way to view the panels is to climb up the canyon face, being careful not to step on or handle any of the rock carvings.
The panels contain a couple of hundred small-medium designs, ranging from stick-figure anthropomorphs, rakes, circles, pitchforks, and water or rain squiggles. Noticeably scarce at the site are zoomorphic figures, with the exception of a few bighorn sheep heads, and a hybrid of a bighorn-human male figure.
Like most of the “rock art” in Death Valley, it was likely produced by members of the Timbisha Shoshone, ancestors of the Uto-Aztecans. It is widely believed that they came to the Death Valley region sometime in the past 1,000-2,000 years, and they continue to live in Death Valley to this day.