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Black Rock Well Petroglyph Site

Photographs of California rock art.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

The Saline Valley
is a deep, arid, approximately 400 square mile valley located in the northern Mojave Desert of California. Geologically the valley is an endorheic basin, meaning it is a closed basin with no out flow of collected water. In many regions of the world such basins are filled with water to form deep lakes, but this basin has a low annual rainfall of 2-4 inches and there is only a dry lakebed in it's center. The Inyo Mountains to the west rise to 10,000 feet and block any moisture coming from the Pacific that was not previously blocked by the 13,000 foot Sierra Nevada Range, and to the east, Hunter Mountain rises to 7200 feet. In the hills below the valley is a small flat that borders a low mountain range on the east. The elevation of the flat is about 5000 feet, high enough to escape the searing heat of Death Valley, only a few miles away. In a short, narrow, boulder strewn canyon cut into the western edge of these mountains is a spring that was dug out in the late 1800's to form a makeshift well.

The presence of water in this remote canyon helped create a small riparian area that attracted travelers for millennia.  A record of their passing is evidenced by the stylistic changes in the petroglyphs found on the canyon walls. Some panels show atlatls, also called throwing sticks, which were phased out of use between 200 BC and AD 500 in favor of the bow & arrow . The single most common image depicted at Black Rock Well is of bighorn sheep . Most on the bighorn petroglyphs are made in the Early Period Coso Style, with parallel horns extending back over the sheep's body; although, several are of the Transitional Period Coso Style, depicting lateral extending bifurcated horns. These bifurcated horn sheep help define Black Rock Well as the northern range limit of the Coso Representational Petroglyph Style, which is centered in the Coso Range 30 miles to the south.  Absent from the petroglyph inventory at this site are Late Period (AD 900-1300) boat shaped, thin legged bighorn sheep and patterned body anthropomorphs.

The volcanic rock in the canyon is not very amenable to petroglyph making. Much of the stone is rough, spalling, not dark and a combination of pecking, abrasion and scratching was employed to make the images. As a result many images are difficult to see and fine line work is uncommon. In historic times the Timbisha Shoshone, a Numic people, lived in this area. 100 years ago Anglo visitors left their names carved into boulders near the well, sometimes superimposing over prehistoric petroglyphs.

Black Rock Well petroglyphs, Saline Valley< California

petroglyphs on basalt boulders

Black Rock Well is located in a small canyon on the
eastern edge of a creosote and Joshua tree covered plain.

Petroglyphs are found on suitable panels on all sides
of the boulder piles.

Saline Valley petroglyphs

abraded and scratched petroglyphs

Petroglyphs on boulders orientated in impossible positions indicate movement of the boulders over time.

This bighorn sheep was made by abrasion rather
than pecking.

petroglyph hunter and bighorn sheep

Coso Style bighorn sheep

Typical of Coso Style petroglyphs, two hunters
with bows pursue a bighorn sheep.

The majority of bighorn petroglyphs at this site depict the sheep with two parallel horns extending back over their body. Note the less patined (more recent) bighorn with bifurcated horns in the top right.

historic petroglyph graffiti segmented circle petroglyph

One hundred years ago Anglo visitors to Black Rock Well carved their name into this boulder.

Segmented circle petroglyphs, "pinwheels", are not common in the Coso area and may represent the visitation by travelers coming from the north or east.

Saline Valley rock art Great Basin scratched petroglyphs
Some petroglyphs are small and made on rock that causes the image to be difficult to see.. Also difficult to see without a careful observation are
small scratched petroglyphs. 
Numic Shoshone petroglyph  
Amorphous, abstract designs may be of post 1300 AD Numic manufacture.  
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