The Search for Granite Mountains Pictographs Part: 1 (Mojave National Preserve)

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Boulder piles at the foot of the Granite Mountains.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Boulder piles at the foot of the Granite Mountains.

 

I’m calling this part one, but in all actuality this should be considered part two. In mid December I searched the area around Budweiser Spring, but came up empty-handed.  Despite finding nothing in the Budweiser Spring vicinity, I knew not to give up on the Granite Mountains, after all a number of sources indicate that this area of the Mojave National Preserve holds the largest concentration of painted Native American designs (pictographs) in the Mojave Desert. If this was true, I wanted to find them, and document them.

On New Years Day my wife and I packed up the Jeep for a return trip, this time we choose to search an area below a different spring, several miles southeast of Budweiser Springs. We arrived around 10:30am, and decided to have an early lunch; Subway sandwiches, which we tend to pick up regularly for day trips into the desert. By 11:00am, lunch was over and we had arrived at the first stretch of granite boulders that we had planned to search that day.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - The first shelter that I checked, it contained a few small pictographs

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – The first shelter that I checked, it contained a few small pictographs

 

My wife was still gearing up, while I was already off searching the boulders. I gravitated toward a rock shelter that looked promising, and in a matter of seconds I was on the walkie, “found some!” I couldn’t believe it, within minutes we had found rock art! It was a small site, the only elements really visible were three small lined figures, each about three inches in length, in bright orangish/red pigment. Upon further examination, small traces of paint remained around the three visible figures.  The shelter itself was beautiful, with plenty of space, and even a “hidden” back room.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Three small figures from the first shelter.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Three small figures from the first shelter.

 

I’m the type that checks every nook and cranny, I climb to anywhere I see a shelter type opening; my wife on the other hand isn’t comfortable doing the level of bouldering that I do, so she stays closer to the ground searching overhangs and easier to access areas. I’m pretty high up in the boulders, when she reports having possibly found something of interest. When I get to where she is, she shows me a small etching in the rock face, sure enough it looks old, but doesn’t really say much to me. On the adjacent wall however, there is a pattern of cupules. For those not aware, cupules are the oldest known form of rock art. They are cup like etchings that have been ground into the rock. The ones at this particular site are crude, but I do believe them to be authentic.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Cupules found in another rock shelter. Cupules are the oldest known form of rock art.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Cupules found in another rock shelter. Cupules are the oldest known form of rock art.

 

We spend in total about two-hours searching the first boulder pile, and find no additional rock art. There is however many caves, and shelter areas. Despite not finding any surface artifacts or rock art in these shelters, it is still more than likely that they had previously been inhabited.

After a short break we move on to boulder pile number two. There are far fewer shelters and overhangs, making the searching much easier. We are about three-quarters of the way around the boulder pile, when we see a beautiful overhang, ducking to see what is under it reveals over half a dozen faded orange pictograph designs. Some of the designs are easier to make out than others, two that really stood out are likely a lizard, and a winged insect. I have previously seen similar lizard like designs, but the winged insect was unique to me. Other designs are faded badly, but with the help of photo enhancements the designs are more vibrant.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Lizard, winged insect, along with many other faded pictograph designs.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Lizard, winged insect, along with many other faded pictograph designs.

 

We finish boulder pile two, and make our way to our third pile of the day. Pile three turns up nothing except some rusty can relics, and nothing more. On to the fourth boulder pile!  The first half was again turning up nothing of interest, but as we rounded the corner to the  southern side, an overhang like the one in boulder pile two caught my wife’s attention. Again, I was lollygagging around in the boulder pile. She calls me over, “I found another one!” There in the middle of the overhang is a bright red-painted line. This line has stood the test of time, its precise location has kept it from the elements. I examine the wall further, and notice heavy smoke soot, and a few very faded orange picto-designs.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - The "bright red line"

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – The “bright red line”

 

I look down to the ground, and discover a large pottery sherd just inches from my foot. I scan the ground around me to find the entire area littered with broken pieces of pottery, and various pieces of lithic scatter (A small scatter of worked flint tools and the remains of their manufacture).  Finding a site with this many sherds of pottery can only suggest that this site has had scant visitation. We collect all the pieces that are on the surface, and find a nice little hiding spot on site for them to remain.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Overhang with pictographs, and a ground covering of pottery shards and lithic scatter.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Overhang with pictographs, and a ground covering of pottery sherds and lithic scatter.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Faded orange pigment on the back of the overhang.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Faded orange pigment on the back of the overhang.

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - Enhancement of the above image brings out the faded colors

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – Enhancement of the above image brings out the faded colors

 

Granite Mountains - Mojave National Preserve - A small sample of the pottery sherds found in the vicinity of the overhang.

Granite Mountains – Mojave National Preserve – A small sample of the pottery sherds found in the vicinity of the overhang.

 

As we began to lose daylight, we decided to check a few last smaller boulder piles, but they turned up nothing. So we called it a day, a very productive and exciting day at that. It was nice to finally have some visual confirmation of what I had believed to be the case, there are pictographs in the Granite Mountains!

As I’m writing this, we are gearing up to return to the area tomorrow with our buddy Desert Mike from Joshua Tree Camping. In all likelihood you will see “The Search for Granite Mountain Pictographs Part: 2” in a few short days.

 

CONTINUE TO PART 2

 

 

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.