Red Rock Canyon Pictographs and Rock Shelter (Red Rock Canyon State Park)

The Red Rock Canyon Pictograph and Rock shelter site has eluded me up until this point. I had heard of it, but wasn’t able to locate it. When I finally found it, it was completely coincidental as I was just out for a short hike, when I recognized the rock shelter in the distance from photos that I had previously seen. As I approached it, I was positive that this was the correct location, and I was surprised by just how close I had been to the site on numerous other occasion.

Red Rock Canyon area was inhabited by the Kawaiisu Tribe for many years prior to the arrival of white man. It is believed that this shelter was used by the Kawaiisu, as well as earlier Native people who pre-dated the Kawaiisu.

In 1973 the Rock shelter was excavated by the California State University, under the direction of the State Park, due to ongoing vandalism and the removal of human burial remains by vandals (three to four bodies had been removed in 1972). The excavation unearthed, 404 pieces of lithic scatter, nine ground stone tools (manos and metates), one core, one hammerstone, 15 Olivella shell (a genus of small marine snails having an operculum and a smooth shining shell formerly used by some Indians of the Pacific coast of No. America as money and for ornament) beads, two stone ornaments, nine ceramic sherds, and a perishable item.

Three pictograph panels, containing roughly 12 designs, were documented in the 1973 excavation. An early paper (unknown date), described the pictograph designs as “sun, moon, stars, and of birds and beasts”.  In 1973, however the designs had become badly weathered, and had faded over the years, making them difficult to see. It is likely that additional pictographs had been located here, but have disappeared completely over the years due to the elements, as well as vandals.

Based on radiocarbon dating of the artifacts discovered during the 1973 excavation, archaeologist have concluded that use of the rock shelter by humans, dates as far back as 3,000 years, with the majority of its use being in the last several hundred years.

The pictographs that once adorned the rock shelter have faded almost to the point of non-existence. With a training eye some elements of the paint are still visible.


 The Red Rock Canyon Pictographs and Rock Shelter are featured in Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. III. Detailed maps, and GPS coordinates are included.  Order your copy now.

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.