Funeral Petroglyphs (Death Valley National Park)

Looking across Greenwater Valley at Funeral Peak.

Looking across Greenwater Valley at Funeral Peak.

 

Finding rock art in Death Valley can be downright frustrating. The amount of land that the park encompasses is a whopping 5,219 square miles, with 91% of that being wilderness! Both petroglyph and pictograph sites are rarely talked about, or written about – making it appear as if few of these sites exist in the park’s land mass. In reality there are many, possibly hundreds, and very likely thousands of them. Most are small, containing a few small panels, while others contain hundreds of panels. Finding out where these precious messages in stone are located can take hours of research, and miles of hiking.

This particular site sits along the eastern base of Funeral Mountain, it is only reachable by means of a two-mile trek across Greenwater Valley. Keep in mind that this hike would not make an ideal summertime hike. Greenwater Valley is void of shade, placing you in the direct line of the sun for the duration of the hike.

I got a late start on my hike across Greenwater Valley, not arriving to where I had planned to begin my hike until roughly noon. It was the final days of December, which meant that my daylight was cut considerably short. The temperature was a frigid 36 degrees, I was bundled up in several layers of clothing, including my bulky Columbia jacket. My original intention was to visit this petroglyph site, then continue up to Funeral Peak. I realized right away that I wouldn’t have time to visit Funeral Peak, but I at least wanted to get out to the petroglyphs.

The bulk of the hike only took about an hour, but having this massive mountain in my sights as my target, made it feel much longer. Every time that I would look up to see my progress, Funeral Mountain never appeared to get any closer. Needless to say, but the desert is a trickster.

 

The first petroglyph boulder, and the mouth of the canyon.

The first petroglyph boulder, and the mouth of the canyon.

 

Once in the canyon, the first panels of petroglyphs present themselves.

Once in the canyon, the first panels of petroglyphs present themselves.

 

Finally with the mouth of the canyon in my line of vision, I came across the first petroglyph boulder. It sat along the embankment above the wash; created by storms that have pummeled the mountain range over the past thousands/millions of years. The years of weathering, with no protection have not been kind to the pecked designs. The lines appear to all run together, leaving a rather jumbled, discernible mess.

With just a few hundred feet to go before reaching the mouth of the canyon, my anticipation grew immensely. I could clearly see that the canyon was jam-packed with black basalt, which can be a telling sign that petroglyphs are near. Immediately upon entering the canyon, I found what I had come here seeking. Several beautiful panels of bighorn sheep, elongated human figures, a sun glyph, squiggles, along with several more abstract designs. Their condition was pristine – vandalism free.

I climbed up the boulders to allow myself a better angle to photograph the designs. Deciding to sit there for a bit, I watched out over Greenwater Valley. I pondered the location of this particular location. Why here, what was the significance?

 

Funeral Petroglyphs - An elongated human figure.

Funeral Petroglyphs – An elongated human figure.

 

Funeral Petroglyphs - A panel of four bighorn sheep.

Funeral Petroglyphs – A panel of four bighorn sheep.

 

Funeral Petroglyphs

Funeral Petroglyphs

 

Funeral Petroglyphs - The view back over the valley, from where I sat and pondered.

Funeral Petroglyphs – The view back over the valley, from where I sat and pondered.

 

Sitting there, it came to me. This was a travel route from the Death Valley side of the Funeral Mountains. The Timbisha Shoshone would travel up the Funeral Mountains, and from the mouth of this canyon, they would exit the range. From here, they would cross Greenwater Valley, then descend Greenwater Canyon into the Greenwater Range. That would add some explanation to the large petroglyph and pictograph sites in Greenwater Canyon.

Interesting enough, later that evening, I was reading Nicholas Clapp’s book, “Old Magic“.  Clapp speaks of the Shoshone shaman(s), and their travel route from Death Valley, across Funeral Peak, and down Greenwater Canyon.  While I feel that much of Clapp’s book is based more on opinion than fact, I was excited to find that somebody else essentially had the same theory that I had.

Once my mind returned to the present day, I climbed back down and searched for additional panels. There were a few, a sun wheel design, a spiral, and a couple of additional sheep. In general the site was small in number of designs, but strong in the spiritual sense. I say strong in the spiritual sense, because it isn’t all that often that I essentially see the past happening. That sort of experience is only reserved for places that remain unmolested.

 

Funeral Petroglyphs - Sun wheel, spiral, and star designs.

Funeral Petroglyphs – Sun wheel, spiral, and star designs.

 

Funeral Petroglyphs

Funeral Petroglyphs

 

I returned on the path that originally led me here, but now seeing it in a different light. It wasn’t just two-miles of empty landscape, it was two-miles with a purpose. This was a trail which led to and from Tupippuh Nummu (Shoshone for “Our Homeland”), and it was walked for many years before my people invaded this sacred country.

 

Funeral Petroglyphs - A view of snow capped Mount Charleston, some fifty miles in the distance.

Funeral Petroglyphs – A view of snow capped Mount Charleston, some fifty miles in the distance.

 

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.

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