Ryan Ranch Native American Habitation area (Joshua Tree National Park)

The cave. On the rock on the left you can see the cupule. On the right in the cave, stones have been aligned.
Surprise! Mortars!

Surprise! Mortars!

 

I love surprises, even the little ones. I was on a leisurely walk to Ryan Ranch from the Ryan Campground in Joshua Tree National Park. I had three sites that I had planned to visit, none of them having anything to do with Native American rock art on this particular day. I was approaching the ranch when I had the urge to relieve myself (too much information? sorry!). I ducked behind a pile of boulders, when I looked down I was surprised to see a large mortar hole. I looked around more, and found nearly a dozen mortars in various sizes.

I felt like I was onto something, so I started checking every nook and cranny of the boulder pile. It wasn’t long before I found a few small, faint red pictographs tucked neatly away under the boulders. I was impressed, but felt that there had to be something more.

 

Mortars of various sizes.

Mortars of various sizes.

 

Faint red pictographs

Faint red pictographs

 

I rounded the corner of the boulders, and noticed a petroglyph. While approaching the petroglyph I noticed a cave out of the corner of my eye. I could see that a number of rocks had been piled inside of the cave in a strategic manner, and a petroglyph and cupule had been engraved outside of the entrance. It wasn’t until I entered the cave that I saw that there was a stone with a larger mortar placed in the middle of it. I looked over the walls and ceiling of the cave for any evidence of pictographs, and only noticed a few small splotches of what appeared to be red paint.

 

The cave. On the rock on the left you can see the cupule. On the right in the cave, stones have been aligned.

The cave. On the rock on the left you can see the cupule. On the right in the cave, stones have been aligned.

 

The Cave - This stone with a mortar sits in the middle of the cave.

The Cave – This stone with a mortar sits in the middle of the cave.

 

Petroglyph near the cave.

Petroglyph near the cave.

 

Petroglyph near the cave.

Petroglyph near the cave.

 

Needless to say that my walk out to Ryan Ranch was delayed at this point. With so many wonderful discoveries in just one boulder pile, I had to check every pile in the area (and there are a lot). Three hours went by, and I had checked every boulder pile, high and low, in a half mile radius. I was checking my last pile when I found yet another set of mortars, but no additional rock art.

I finally managed to make it to my intended destination, but that is another post. The rule of the day, always look before you pee!

 

After three hours of searching, another set of mortars, but no additional rock art.

After three hours of searching, another set of mortars, but no additional rock art.

 

 

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.

  • Claudia Robinson

    What was in the area that the natives ground? Most have been something important to their lifestyle that so many mortar holes were found!

  • pat

    Nice Jim! I was just there and I also discovered some mortars. However, it wasn’t any of the ones you showed. I also didn’t see any petroglyphs. Next time, I’ll look around there more. I’ll do a post soon and include photos of the ones I found.

  • Bill Walkup

    Nice find Jim.