Rodman Mountain Wilderness / Surprise Tank Petroglyphs

 

Surprise Tank

Surprise Tank

 

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).

 

This petroglyph, which is located outside of Surprise Tank is likely one of the oldest designs in the area. The design has been highly revarnished, and appears as dark as the stone.

This petroglyph, which is located outside of Surprise Tank is likely one of the oldest designs in the area. The design has been highly revarnished, and appears as dark as the stone.

 

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.

 

This cave (rock shelter) is considered by researchers to be a Rattlesnake Shaman Cave.

This cave (rock shelter) is considered by researchers to be a Rattlesnake Shaman Cave.

 

Rattlesnake design found around the cave.

Rattlesnake design found around the cave.

 

Additional Rattlesnake & zig-zag designs around the cave.

Additional Rattlesnake & zig-zag designs around the cave.

 

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?

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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