“Mikiska” Rock Art (Johnson Valley)

Large petroglyph boulder at "Mikiska"

Large petroglyph boulder at “Mikiska”


Close-up of above panel.

Close-up of above panel.


Sometimes I receive anonymous tips on places that are suggested that I pay a visit. Almost a year ago to this day, I received an email with a GPS coordinate, and the word “Mikiska” beside it, a messy scan of a few pages of a document called “Rock Art Papers Vol. 3” was also included. Despite not posting this for a year, I paid “Mikiska” a visit almost immediately (goes to show how back logged I can become).

“Mikiska” is located in an eastern draining canyon along the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in Johnson Valley. I’m hesitant to give any additional details, because let’s face it, Johnson Valley is the graffiti capital of the high desert. The stunning boulder piles along highway 247, which runs the length of the valley are covered with more graffiti than a train that has spent a majority of it’s life in Detroit. I’ve often wondered how many petroglyphs and pictographs have been destroyed on those granite formations.

Very little has been written about “Mikiska,”  which leaves a lot open for personal interpretation. My findings indicate that a small village site or camp was likely established in this canyon by the Serrano Indians, the last native group of people to call the valley home, abandoning it in the 1870s due to epidemics. The Serrano never lived full-time in the desert, but rather seasonally. Summers they spent high in the San Bernardino Mountains, and winter in the desert below. Their name actually translates to “mountaineers.”


Petroglyph panel at "Mikiska"

Petroglyph panel at “Mikiska”


A badly eroded sun petroglyph design.

A badly eroded sun petroglyph design.


A very faint diamond shaped pattern on the left.

A very faint diamond shaped pattern on the left.


In the canyon there is a small perennial spring, this spring would have been the factor that brought the Serrano to this spot.  Near the spring there is an interesting stone circle, which is obviously very old. I sent photos of this stone circle to an archeologist friend, he replied confirming my suspicion that this formation is the base of a housing structure, “It looks like a house ring or the base for an aboriginal residential structure. Looks similar to ones I’ve seen in Tubatulabal territory.”

The petroglyphs at Mikiska are carved in granite, many of them have weathered poorly, making them exceptionally difficult to see. There are however some very nice panels that have managed to maintain their integrity.  The designs are considered to be made in the Western Great Basin style; they have an intermixed use of straight and curved lines, and have an emphasis on single images with only occasional multi-image complexes. What it boils down to, is the designs are abstract.


More than likely the base of an aboriginal residential structure.

More than likely the base of an aboriginal residential structure.


There are at least two pictographs in the canyon, past the spring. One of these pictographs is badly faded, and is better seen with image enhancement. The other is one of my favorites; located on top of a boulder pile in orange ochre is an anthropomorphic figure, which I like to call “the guardian of the canyon.”

Overall, “Mikiska” is an awesome little gem that has remained well preserved.


Center of the image, "The Guardian of the Canyon." A few petroglyphs are located left of the pictograph.

Center of the image, “The Guardian of the Canyon.” A few petroglyphs are located left of the pictograph.


Close up of "The Guardian of the Canyon"

Close up of “The Guardian of the Canyon”

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.


  • Thank you for not telling us where this is. I’ve seen the graffiti-scarred boulders along Old Woman Springs Rd. – lived near there.

  • I haven’t been down there is many years and had no idea that there was so much graffiti. It’s great that this place hasn’t been discovered. I’m sure that was a nice surprise for you. Nice photos and post.

  • Good afternoon Jim, there are a number of images here. About 330 recorded so far, but not published. Vandalism is on the rise here and in the other drainages. I’ve been in the area since 1979 and the impacts to the art and sites, broadly speaking, is the worst I’ve seen. Let’s hope the BLM removes some of its OHV signage. The info is just drawing more folks to areas they likely should not go.

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