The Rodman Mountain / Surprise Tank Petroglyph site is located within the Rodman Mountain Wilderness, within a short distance of the towns of Barstow and Daggett.
There are two areas that hold the most amount of petroglyphs. The first is a basalt outcropping that is along the main route into the wilderness area. The petroglyphs at this first location have been badly vandalized over the last 40 years. The gallery below is an example of the vandalism that has taken place.
The second location, know as Surprise Tank contains the highest concentration of petroglyphs. In total it is estimated that over 900 designs are located in this 100 yard eroded water course. While there is no running water here, water becomes trapped in natural tanks along the basalt floor after a rain storm. It is thought that this location was used as a stop over along the trade route for the Colorado River tribes and those on the Pacific Coast.
Rock Art specialists have dated the petroglyphs at Surprise Tank to be between 10,000 years old to 1,000 years old, with a majority being within the 1,000 year range. Dating of petroglyphs is done by analyzing the patina, or desert varnish (Desert varnish or rock varnish is an orange-yellow to black coating found on exposed rock surfaces in arid environments).
A rock shelter in Surprise Tank has been dubbed by researchers as a Rattlesnake Shaman Cave because of the zig-zag designs and snake motifs on the panels around the shelter. It is thought that a shaman would enter the shelter during a vision quest, the cave like shelter would have provided a place that the world was opening up, thus entering the supernatural world. The petroglyph designs around the shelter would likely have been created during one of these vision quests.
A majority of the petroglyphs at Surprise Tank and the surrounding area are abstract, or entoptic forms. It is believed that these abstract designs were created Shaman at the beginning stages of entering a trance. There are also a number of big-horn sheep, human figures, hand prints, and rattlesnake designs.
Sadly this site has been abused by modern people over the last forty or so years. A large portion of petroglyphs have been damaged, but there is still something special about this place. The magic of the Shaman may still be present today.
Interested in visiting this site?
GUIDE SERVICE OPTION: Jim’s Guide Service may be the right choice for you. Jim can provide you with a single day to multiday rock art tours throughout the Mojave Desert. Visit the guide website for more details.
BOOK OPTION: The Rodman Mountain & Surprise Tank Petroglyphs are featured in Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. III. Detailed maps, and GPS coordinates are included. Order your copy now.