Queen Mountain Pictographs and the William Mike Theory (Joshua Tree National Park)

Overlooking Queen Valley from the top of Queen Mountain.

Overlooking Queen Valley from the top of Queen Mountain.

 

Queen Mountain is on the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park.  West of the mountain is the aptly named Wonderland of Rock, northwest is Indian Cove, and to the northeast, the Oasis of Mara – all of which are rich in Native American history. It would only make sense that the Chemehuevi (the native people of the area) would have made their way up Queen Mountain.

In the past year, I have taken four trips to the top of Queen Mountain. It is a different world from that of the desert below – plant life thrives, with a diverse assortment of cactus – more so than anywhere else in JTNP; pinyon pine is plentiful, a variety of yucca, and even the occasional Joshua Tree.  A series of sandy washes, and granite rock outcroppings guide you through what could be considered a massive oasis.

On my previous trips I had yet to come across any rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs). Only a cave, which has a particularly eerie story behind it. Butchers Cave is said to have been used by the Chemehuevi as a butchering area for Bighorn Sheep. When the cave was first discovered by the white man in the 1920s, it has been told to have been stacked full of bighorn sheep skulls. Today, only two horns remain – the story states that the National Park Service removed the skulls, but there wouldn’t be much of a point in that; and I really couldn’t see them carrying what may have been hundreds of skulls off of a mountain. While there may be some truth to cave’s use, it has likely been exaggerated in each telling over the years.

 

The mysterious "Butchers Cave"

The mysterious “Butchers Cave”

 

Along with the cave, but not at all related (or is it?), there is the story of William Mike, a Chemehuevi shaman and chief, he held these positions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  He had a mountain that he called his own, it was his “power mountain”, that mountain is now what we call Queen Mountain.

What transpired on Queen Mountain, is relatively unknown. It was more than likely a hunting ground; bighorn sheep still thrive on the mountain to this day. Usually when there are hunting grounds, there are small camps or seasonal village sites. The Chemehuevi were known to inhabit rock shelters, providing a safe haven from the elements. These rock shelters, are also the places that they left pictographs (paintings on rock). It is widely speculated that the shaman is who created most “rock art,” and most of the pictographs in this region are believed to be only 100-200 years old. This may point to William Mike as being the creator of a majority (or at least some) of the pictographs. But that is all theory, so please consume it as nothing more.

On this cool September morning, I hiked up Queen Mountain from the southwest. I had an area in the center of the mountain that I had wanted to check out, it would be over a four-hour hike to reach it. Part way up the mountain, I made a wrong turn. I realized it pretty quickly, but decided to carry on in the direction that I was going. When I reached the top, I was a quarter of a mile out of my way.

 

The area that caught my attention...

The area that caught my attention…

 

Walking toward the first wash in the series that I would be following on that day, I noticed a boulder outcropping a little further west. From a distance I could see an ample looking rock shelter, so I decided to check it out.  The first boulder that I approached had a low to the ground hollow area, dropping  to my knees, I peered inside. It was at that very moment that I had finally found my first pictographs on top of Queen Mountain. The faded red pigment was like a bonus that I had worked so hard to obtain – and now here it was, right in front of me.

A majority of the design are so faded that it is impossible to make out what they originally looked like, however a sun symbol in the upper left corner could be clearly made out. I laid down, and slid into the hollowed boulder, to obtain good close up photographs of the pictographs. While photographing the sun, I noticed a notch further up in the hollow, it too had a pictograph inside of it. This pictograph was nearly in perfect shape, very little fading, and the lines still bold. Because of its location it had been highly sheltered from wind, rain, and sun light. The design consists of several red lines, and a partial circle around them.

 

The hollow...

The hollow…

 

...and what do we have here? A lot of red pigment.

…and what do we have here? A lot of red pigment.

 

Closer inspection reveals a sun, and hidden up in the corner a near perfect conditioned pictograph of lines, and a circle.

Closer inspection reveals a sun, and hidden up in the corner a near perfect conditioned pictograph of lines, and a circle.

 

Badly faded elements - likely a result of wind and rain erosion.

Badly faded elements – likely a result of wind and rain erosion.

 

I was so excited at this point, I didn’t know where to look next! With at least a dozen rock shelters in the immediate vicinity, my work was cut out for me. I turned the corner into the first shelter, and found myself staring at a small panel of three designs – consisting of mostly lines, circle and squiggles. This small panel was again in very good condition, the inside of the shelter was well protected from the elements.

There was yet another hollow on the backside of the same boulder that I had found the first panel. Peering in revealed similar lines and circular designs, in the same red ochre as the other pictographs.

I spent the next couple of hours documenting my findings, and searching the remaining shelters. None of the other shelters contained any additional pictographs, nor did I find any surface artifacts – or evidence of long-term habitation (ie: mortars, matates, etc).

Because of the time that I spent at this location, I didn’t manage to make it to my intended destination. I’m perfectly fine with that, content with my findings…finally having something concrete on William Mike’s, “power mountain”.

 

An example of the rock shelters at this site, there are nearly a dozen.

An example of the rock shelters at this site, there are nearly a dozen.

 

Pictographs on the wall of one of the rock shelters.

Pictographs on the wall of one of the rock shelters.

 

These rock shelters have ample living space, and would provide shelter from the elements outside.

These rock shelters have ample living space, and would provide shelter from the elements outside.

 

Pictograph lines in the second hollow.

Pictograph lines in the second hollow.

 

An interest design, located under the second hollow.

An interest design, located under the second hollow.

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

    That is cool beans!
    Your determination is paying off. Have you had time to run any of them through DStretch yet?

    • Yes – I ran them through Dstretch, they look better without it.

  • Desertbat

    very cool.

  • David Taylor

    How is it that getting lost works so well. I’ve tried doing it on purpose and it only ticked the wife off.

  • Craige Campbell

    Love this story Jim. Just mmaks me want to head out on an adventure right now.