Picture Canyon Petroglyphs / Pictographs (Dead Mountains)

I was already in Needles for a meeting with the BLM regarding Section 106 of the DRECP. Since I was there I wanted to make the most of my trip, and visit some sites in the vicinity. I started my day at Grapevine Canyon in Spirit Mountain near Laughlin, NV, and made my way to Picture Canyon in the Dead Mountains in the afternoon. Grapevine is a very well-known public petroglyph site, while Picture Canyon is far from being on the typical tourist thoroughfare.

The Dead Mountains are in the southeastern Mojave Desert, in San Bernardino County. The range borders the tri-state intersection of Nevada, Arizona and California. The Fort Mojave Indian Reservation borders the foothills on the east and northeast, in all three states.

I followed a power line road for several miles to the wash that flows through Picture Canyon. The temperature was already hovering around 100 degrees when I exited the vehicle, and began gearing up.  I was expecting a mile hike down to the canyon, any  maybe three miles round-trip.  I descended down the wash for a mile across the wide open desert. I was immediately warm. This was my first triple digit hike of the season.

In the wash I found several sets of fresh tire tracks, which immediately pissed me off! Here I was hiking in this heat, while some lazy assholes sat on their asses and drove down the wash illegally.In between fuming over someones disregard for nature, I enjoyed the scene of the craggy mountains and the V-shaped cut of Picture Canyon,  allowing for a superb overlook of Bullhead City.

 

In the Dead Mountains.

In the Dead Mountains.

 

Where two washes meet, entering Picture Canyon.

Where two washes meet, entering Picture Canyon.

 

 

Near the mouth of Picture Canyon two washes come together and widen significantly. There was plenty of evidence of the canyon flash flooding, with smoke trees completely devastated by raging water. Soon the canyon closed in, and I noticed a half-dozen petroglyphs thirty-feet above me on the canyon wall.

 

The craggy canyon walls of Picture Canyon.

The craggy canyon walls of Picture Canyon.

 

One of the first petroglyph sightings.

One of the first petroglyph sightings.

 

The petroglyphs being a confirmation that I was on the right path, I continued down the narrowing canyon expecting to see more petroglyphs. But I didn’t. Turn after turn, I was left feeling disappointed. It was also getting hotter than hell with the sun directly above the canyon, and there was no shade to be found.  My frustration grew, I rounded yet another bend in the canyon and heard a BIG disturbance in the shrub along the canyon wall. My heart skipped a beat, and I was taken aback!  All that I could think was MOUNTAIN LION! Suddenly two-big healthy looking bighorn sheep emerged from the brush and jolted straight up the steep canyon wall. I had the wrong lens on my camera, so I grabbed my GoPro and began shooting video (The video is shaky, because I was trying to change the lens on my camera at the same time. Watch at full screen in HD for best results.). If nothing else came from this trek, at least I had this moment.

 

 

After placing my heart back in my chest, I continued further down the canyon.  I began seeing sporadic petroglyphs high above on the canyon walls. Under most circumstance I would climb up to view them, but it was just too hot, and I needed to save my energy to get back to the vehicle.  The heat can quickly do a number on you, DON’T underestimate it! Thankfully my trusty telephoto lens does a decent job capturing images at a distance.

 

Grapevine Canyon style petroglyphs.

Grapevine Canyon style petroglyphs.

 

One of the more significant panels in Picture Canyon.

One of the more significant panels in Picture Canyon.

 

Close-up

Close-up

 

Another close-up. I love the large bodied anthropomorph.

Another close-up. I love the large bodied anthropomorph.

 

For the next half-mile there was a continuous line of petroglyphs, most of which were several feet above the wash. Along the south wall I found the prize jewel of the canyon. Fifty-feet or so above me there was a fairly large panel of red pictographs. Some of the pictographs remained fairly bright in color, while others have dulled from exposure to rain and other weather related elements. I find it interesting that of the few reports that I’ve seen on this canyon, none mention pictographs. I highly doubt that I’m the first to have seen them, so why haven’t they been documented?

 

The biggest and best surprise was this large pictograph panel.

The biggest and best surprise was this large pictograph panel.

 

The designs seen in Picture Canyon are similar to the Grapevine Canyon style; thick bulky lines, with an abundance of geometric shapes. This style is associated with the Mohave Indians (who still live in the region today). Along with the geometric shapes there are also several examples of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. The bighorn sheep is well represented here among the designs, as well, in the flesh.

When I reached three miles I decided that it was time to turn around. The heat was kicking my ass, and I still had to get back to the Jeep. I trudged along cooking with every step.  The last mile across open desert was the worst, it felt never-ending.  I imagined myself having a heat a stroke, and some poor BLM Ranger finding me naked, and dead. When I got back to the Jeep I checked the water in my bladder, there was literally two sips left.

Special thanks to my friend Patrick Tillett for some helpful directions to this spot. Read his blog, it is one of my favorites!

 

Smoking "C"?

Smoking “C”?

 

The Mohave Indians, the inventors of the dice!

The Mohave Indians, the inventors of the dice!

 

Petroglyphs in Picture Canyon.

Petroglyphs in Picture Canyon.

 

Possible depiction of a desert tortoise.

Possible depiction of a desert tortoise.

 

A small spring trickles water in Picture Canyon.

A small spring trickles water in Picture 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.

  • pat

    Awesome! I can imagine the noise and it would be very scary. Slogging through a sandy wash isn’t much fun at any temperature. Triple digits could make it seem like torture. Great find and nice photos Jim…