Rock Art at Twin Tanks (Joshua Tree National Park)

Twin Tanks - Close up of cupules.

I’ve often thought that Joshua Tree National Park has picked some of the most uninteresting and insignificant sites to shuffle unsuspecting tourist to. For whatever reason there has been a severe focus man-made dams. For instance there is Barker Dam, Squaw Tank Dam, Live Oak Tank Dam, and Twin Tanks among others. All of these sites are signed with parking areas, and sometimes a trail. There is usually an informational sign about how early ranchers built the dam, yadda, yadda, yadda…and Joe tourist eats it up.

These tanks or dams are natural holders of water, and most have a much older story to them than what the park’s interpretive signs lead onto. If the proper information was given, and the true back story told, these tanks/dams would be much more interesting and significant than what they appear on the surface.

I’m sorry, did I just contradict myself? It happens from time to time. Maybe instead of calling them uninteresting and insignificant sites, I should have stated that NPS has made interesting and significant sites appear uninteresting and insignificant by leaving out the facts and history.

The ranchers didn’t just stumble upon these tanks, as we are led to believe. These natural tanks were used by Native people for hundreds, if not thousand of years prior to Bill Keys and his rancher/miner buddies damming them up with concrete and stone.  Twin Tanks is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about.


Twin Tanks - Directly below the dam, on the right side there are a significant number of cupules.

Twin Tanks – Directly below the dam, on the right side there are a significant number of cupules.


Twin Tanks - Close up of cupules.

Twin Tanks – Close up of cupules.


Directly below one of the Twin Tank dams is a large panel of cupules. Cupules are a form of petroglyph, and are considered by many archeologists to be the oldest known form of “rock art.” It is quite obvious based on the volume of cupules that this was once a very significant site to the Native people.  With no information being publicly available about this site (and most others), it is unclear of the age, or who made these cupules. Based on geographic area it could have been the Serrano, or even possibly the Pinto Basin people who inhabited nearby areas as far back as 8,000 years ago.

If you venture out past Twin Tanks, it is likely that you may uncover other “rock art” of various types, including both pictographs and petroglyphs. For instance the boulder pictured below contains a few small very faded pictographs.

The lesson here is to never take these sites at face value. There is usually something more to the story. Research it, find whatever facts or information you can.

Twin Tanks - Pictograph boulder in the Twin Tanks vicinity.

Twin Tanks – Pictograph boulder in the Twin Tanks vicinity.



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.