The Search for Granite Mountains Pictographs Part: 2 (Mojave National Preserve)

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Holy crap there are a lot of boulder stacks here!!

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Holy crap there are a lot of boulder stacks here!!

 

It didn’t take long to set up a return trip to the Granite Mountains, three days to be exact (read part 1). My wife and I were so pleased with the findings of our New Year’s Day trip, that we couldn’t keep away.  We invited our good friend, and exploring companion, Desert Mike, from joshuatreecamping.com. Mike’s experience with hunting down Native American sites is minimal, and we’ve wanted to show him the ropes for sometime.

Saturday morning, we meet up early at my home in Joshua Tree to make what is usually an hour drive to the Granite Mountains area of the Mojave Preserve. This morning it was going to take a little longer, having Mike following along in his red Jeep Wrangler; the man drives like a grandma on her way to Sunday church service. Don’t take me wrong, I love the guy and all, but one of these days we need to install some firecrackers under his ass.

 

Mike from joshuatreecamping.com, hamming it up for the camera.

Mike from joshuatreecamping.com, hamming it up for the camera.

 

When we finally arrived on site, we did a quick review with Mike of our finds from the previous trip, taking him to the two bigger sites. They both appeared undisturbed since our previous visit, the only footprints in sight, being from us.  At the overhang that we had found the motherload of pottery, we searched the area further to find even more sherds, and lithic scatters. We placed those pieces with our previous finds.

The plan for today was simple, pick up where we left off. It wasn’t difficult to do, at the base of the mountains there are so many granite boulder stacks that one could spend a month or more scouring them for signs of Native American habitation.

Searching high and low in the first boulder pile turned up nothing of interest, no signs of ancient or more modern civilization. The mountains begin a quarter of a mile away from where we were searching, directly along the base we spot what we think could be the perfect location for rock art and habitation. We make our way to it, and are greeted by the carving, “Couger Camp” on a boulder outside.  Modern graffiti can be a good indication that rock art is close. For some reason there is a good number of idiots living on our planet, hopefully the people who do these sorts of things find themselves dying a long painful death somewhere in the desert, they honestly deserve it.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Brilliance at work...

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Brilliance at work…

 

Looking at the shelter from the outside my wife says something to me along the lines of, “There has to be something in there!” I agree, the spot reminds me of other sites I’ve managed to find within 10-15 miles of here. We enter the shelter, it is a large one, there is a lot of space here. A wonderful place for a family, or larger group to inhabit…but there is nothing, only a few old tent pegs, probably left over from the people who don’t know how to spell “cougar”.

We were disappointed, but not discouraged.  At this point we’re a couple of hours into the search. The party of three are all enjoying themselves, the scenery, the quietness of the desert. It is hard to believe that just ten miles away people are zooming along on Highway 40, many on their way to sin city…most probably thinking, “get me out of this god forsaken land of nothing”. Of course we don’t see it that way, there is plenty see, all you have to do is look and listen.

The search continues, we stay along the base of the mountain heading northeast. As usual my wife is off in the front, she doesn’t waste time searching shelters that she personally “wouldn’t want to shack up in.” I’m a bit more thorough, hoping to find some hard to reach treasure. We hike about a half mile from the “sure thing, that wasn’t the sure thing.” Mike and I are doing the high and low, when Meg (my wife), yells out, “found something!” Sure enough she had.

There they were, in a very fine shelter; at least two multi-color pictograph designs, and a single color design. The shelter wasn’t the easiest thing to get into, large boulders blocked the direct path, it is possible that the boulders fell sometime after habitation. I climbed over them, getting a closer look at the ancient artwork. After studying the walls for any additional pigment, I climbed out. We each took our turns checking it out. Mike did some extra poking around and found a rattlesnake spine tucked back in a crevice. How old the spine is, we don’t know. Was it placed there by the shelter’s Native American inhabitant, it is possible. It was an excellent find however in addition to the pictographs.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Orange and white pictographs (unenhanced)

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Orange and white pictographs (unenhanced)

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - The pictograph shelter

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – The pictograph shelter

 

A short distance from the shelter, we came upon a large wash. A lonely boulder pile lie on the other side, Meg volunteered to check it while Mike and I continued along the base of the mountain.  Of course,  five minutes later….”I think I found something,” is shouted in a female voice. Yes, she did it again….I point to a couple of nice looking shelters for Mike to check out, and I rush over to see what the pictograph sleuth has found. I get over to Meg’s boulder stack, and she points up to a shelf ledge 50 feet above the desert floor. I see what she had pointed out, but it’s too far away to make out anything more than a few lines that could potentially be paint. I climb up to the ledge, and begin hunting for what we had seen from below, but I can’t find it….

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - A pictograph is spotted way up there on the shelf.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – A pictograph is spotted way up there on the shelf.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Yes, I climbed up there for these three lines in orange pigment.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Yes, I climbed up there for these three lines in orange pigment.

 

In the meantime from the other side of the wash we hear, “I found a pottery cup!”  “Damn it!” I want to yell, but instead I reply, “Be there in a bit.” In the meantime I finally found the pictograph that was spotted from below, it consisted of just a few orange lines, it was definitely pigment. On the entire shelf, as well as the boulder pile, that is all that there was.

We rushed back over to where Mike was, there he was in one of the shelters that I suggested he check out. We climb up to him, and he shows us a half-dozen large pottery fragments. I had thought that he found an entire intact pottery cup, which is something that I would have flipped to have found. These are however probably the largest chunks of pottery that I have even seen outside of a museum. A good find for sure! I check the rest of the shelter, which goes back several feet, but don’t come across anything else of interest.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Large pottery sherds found in rock shelter

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Large pottery sherds found in rock shelter

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - The rock shelter that the pottery sherds were found in.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – The rock shelter that the pottery sherds were found in.

 

We continue our search for probably another hour before calling it a day. We return to our Jeeps and drive a short piece to an area that we had planned to cook out and have dinner. We get the fire roaring, dinner cooking, and Mike passes around moonshine, I take a sip, it’s harsher than usual…one sip will do. Meg declines. It was yet another successful day of pictograph hunting in the Granite Mountains. We’ll be back, very soon.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Twilight over the Granite Mountains

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Twilight over the Granite Mountains

 

Good friends, a fire, and food...the perfect ending to a wonderful day in the Granite Mountains.

Good friends, a fire, and food…the perfect ending to a wonderful day in the Granite Mountains.

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.

4 Comments

  • Sounds like a wonderful day. I love to explore the desert, but I have to admit I am so afraid of snakes and other desert inhabitants I am afraid to enter caves and the like. Do you run up against such things while you are out?

    • I run into them on occasion. The one in the photo, I almost missed with my visual inspection, and came close to stepping on him. Luckily I saw him in time. But these are rare occurrences. Snakes and most other desert critters will not bother you, unless you bother them first. It is all a matter of respect.

  • Do you need to coordinate the visit with the Granite Mountain Research Center? (or do you just go?) Google is making it sound like access is restricted. :(

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