Pahranagat Valley in Lincoln County Nevada, is culturally rich, with an untold number of petroglyphs, mines, ghost towns, and historic ranches. I spent three days in the valley, and the surrounding area visiting just a microscopic portion of all that it had to offer. On the day that I arrived, I was dead set on seeing some petroglyphs. Unfortunately flash flooding in the region had occurred just days before my arrival, and the sky looked like it could open up again at any moment, causing an all new gully washer.
After finding a hotel in Alamo, I took the risk and headed for the hills in search of a site known as the Shooting Gallery. The Shooting Gallery is located in Curtis Canyon in the Pahranagat Mountain Range, roughly eight miles from Alamo. From my understanding the roads leading to the site are usually in good order, but the recent flooding that had taken place turned them into anything but. The road in many places was gone, and it didn’t help that I was the first vehicle out there since it had happened. Roughly a quarter of a mile before the Shooting Gallery parking area, the road was nowhere to be found, complete wiped out and impassable. I parked and walked the rest of the way in.
I hiked to the northern most section of the archaeological district, along the wash I began to find several knapped pieces of obsidian and chert. This made sense considering the Shooting Gallery was a hunting district 500 to 2,000 years ago for the Pahranagat people, a band of Southern Paiute that inhabited these mountains, and nearby valleys. These early people essentially set up Curtis Canyon as a large game trap. Along the ridge line of the canyon, rocks were stacked to look like hunters and to scare game back down into the canyon were a maze of rock alignments were built to corral the animals to men waiting in ambush from behind hunting blinds with a bow and arrow, and/or spears.
This elaborate game driving set up, is one of few known sites of this type in central and southern Nevada. It was made possible due to the narrow canyon, the availability of water, and good grazing land on the northern and eastern slopes of the canyon.
I meandered my way through the stacks of granite boulders, stopping ever so often to admire the hundreds of crudely pecked designs in the black layer of clay and manganese oxide on the rock surfaces. Not surprisingly an abundance of the petroglyphs consist of game animal designs, with the largest concentration being that of the big horn sheep. It has been asked a million times before, but I’ll ask it again. Why did Native people from all across the desert southwest depict big horn sheep in such abundance? It is widely believed that big horn populations were not large, probably far less than the number of these animals pecked into rocks across the region. This leads me to believe that these depictions were a form of hunting “magic,” or a wish – so to speak. For instance the Shooting Gallery site being a known hunting ground, the designs were pecked here because it was believed that in doing so, it would make the big horn more plentiful, or allow the hunt to be successful.
As I walked around pondering all of this, the silence of the wilderness was shattered by the loudest explosion I had ever experienced. I leaped in the air, and let off a scream. That is saying a lot considering I’ve lived on or near over a half-dozen military bases in my lifetime. At the time it hadn’t dawned on me that I was only 20-miles east of Area 51. God only knows they could have blown up; some newly acquired alien air craft, or even dropping an atomic weapon on a defenseless little green man who had managed to escape from an underground bunker. Never the less, a small part of me wondered if civilization would be there upon my return.
After gathered my wits, I continued my search. With such a large area, and so many places for petroglyphs to hide, it sometimes took going over the same space multiple times to see all the petroglyphs, and I’m sure despite having done so, I still probably missed plenty.
Along a boulder strung side canyon I found water trickling out from beneath the boulders, only to disappear underground almost immediately. Intrigued, I decided to further investigate the canyon, and its water source. Fighting through boulders and brush, I pushed through the lower portion of the canyon. I didn’t manage to find the water source, but I did stumble upon a small pictograph panel of three figures painted in orange ochre. Despite the paint still being vibrant, it is difficult to see much more than blobs of pigment, it is possible the panel was at one time larger, containing more elements.
I spent several hours meandering around the Shooting Gallery. Thankfully it only managed to sprinkle on me, no gully washers on this day. While I share with you the images and my story from here, the Shooting Gallery is such a unique site that it needs to be visited first hand in order to truly appreciate it.