Porcupine Wash Petroglyphs (Joshua Tree National Park)

Porcupine Wash is located in Joshua Tree National Park’s Pinto Basin. The wash is well-marked from Pinto Basin Road, and contains a parking area and backcountry board. For most this a quick stop along the road while speeding through the basin, for others it is the starting point for a hike to Monument Mountain and/or the Ruby Lee Mill. During the spring Porcupine Wash is a known area for wildflower viewing.

Porcupine Wash is also the home of a single petroglyph panel. I first stopped to look for it nearly a year ago, but was unable to find it.  It had since escaped my mind until it recently forced itself again into my frontal lobe. After a few days of it eating at me I decided to get back out there and find it, and that is exactly what I did. Like the first time I concentrated my efforts on the east side of the wash (from the parking area), probably retracing many of the steps I had taken during my first hunt.  On my second hunt, I combed 4.5 miles of desert on the east side, and found absolutely nothing.

I became frustrated with my lack of luck, but decided to check out the west side of the wash before calling it a day. Along the west side, a long wall of dark granite boulders confines the wash, I walked along this wall knowing that it would be the most likely of locations. Not even a quarter of a mile from the parking area, I found what I had been looking for in an oddly shaped pac-man like boulder. Despite finally finding it, I found myself even more frustrated for having not walked in this direction in the first place.

Petroglyphs (pecked) are far less common in Joshua Tree National Park than pictographs (painted), so finding a site with petroglyphs is always a rare treat.  What makes the Porcupine Wash petroglyphs even more intriguing is their likelihood of having been placed here by the Pinto Basin People that inhabited the basin over 5,000 years ago, when there were still rivers flowing, and lush vegetation in abundance.


Petroglyph panel in Porcupine Wash.

Petroglyph panel in Porcupine Wash.


Closeup of panel. Note the significant number of "bar-bell" like designs.

Closeup of panel. Note the significant number of “bar-bell” like designs.


The designs you see here are a high concentration of “bar-bell” like shapes, which are very similar to designs found at Little Lake, CA – another of very few Pinto Basin People identified “rock art” sites (see image). Other designs appear to be squiggly lines, and a sun motif.

If you find this site, like all others, please respect it by not touching it, adding to it, or defacing it in any manner. These are treasures of a past time.


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.


  • Thanks for your post Jim. Looking at the very last photograph located at the bottom of your article, I see an image that is striking and piculiar in relation to the barbell images. In fact I’ve never seen this type of image in all my desert journeys looking at pictograph and petroglyph panels. The image that I’m referencing is located in the center of the rocker panel and it is it image that to my eyes appears to be a jack rabbit standing on its hind legs. Note the long ears and the front paws pointed down. I’ve seen a lot of jackrabbits in my years of visiting the desert and often find them in this position among the bushes when confronted with a startling noise or when they’re looking to assess their surroundings.What do you think? Do you think this image is just as old as the other images or do you think it was a recent addition to the rock art panel?

  • Nice post Jim!
    So, of course I just went back to look at that symbol/image. I’ve see images similar to this in the past, and I’ve also always thought of them as insects, or just some abstract image. After looking at this one, it could be a jack rabbit. Good eye Ivo!

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