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Painted Rock Pictograph Site

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

The Carrizo Plain is a large, mostly dry inland valley located 50 miles west of Bakersfield, CA, and situated between the La Panza Range to the west and the Temblor Range to the east. The valley is oriented SE to NW, with the San Andreas Fault passing under the eastern margin. The Plain is flat, featureless, about 12 miles wide, covered by knee high grass (except for the marshy non potable Soda Lake in the valley center) and much of the Plain is just below 2300' in elevation. Summer temperatures are in the 90s., annual rain is only about 6" with most of the precipitation falling during the winter months. Antelope and rabbits abound, migratory birds frequent Soda Lake in the winter, lizards are constantly seen and rattlesnakes congregate in the rocky areas. Walking across Carrizo Plain is difficult because the tall grass hides a ground surface that has been swiss-cheesed by the many borrowing mammals. Up until the mid 1950's this was a large wheat producing area, although now much of the Carrizo is a protected conservatory.

Painted Rock is a cross bedded horseshoe shaped marine sandstone formation approximately 250 feet long by 280 feet wide and 45' tall. This fossilized underwater sand dune formed when the Carrizo was submerged beneath a shallow sea during the early Miocene Epoch, about 20 million years ago. Archaeological evidence from village sites indicate the Chumash people first moved onto the Carrizo Plain about 2000 BC, and thrived there until mostly abandoning the area around AD 600. The reason for abandonment is not clearly understood, but a persistent drought in the area is the current prevailing  theory. The Chumash left stunning pictographs in the natural alcoves and small caves formed in the sandstone outcrops throughout the Carrizo as did the Yokut people who moved in and out of the Carrizo area after the Chumash departed. The hollow center area of Painted Rock provides an excellent sheltered area for Carrizo rock art.

The pictographs were painted in red, black and white pigments with yucca & rodent tail hair brushes and sometimes just by simple finger painting. Yellow, green and blue pigments are occasionally seen. Pictographs are much more fragile than are petroglyphs, and quickly deteriorate from exposure to rain and wind abrasion. Unfortunately the natural exfoliation of the sandstone causes pieces of the images to spall and fall from the paintings. There are also petroglyphs here although they are often difficult to discern carved into the pale sandstone. The Yokut people lived in this area and some of the rock art on the Carrizo Plain was surely made by them. In general, Yokut pictographs tend to include large polychrome figures and motifs, while the Chumash pictographs include small elements, circular mandela motifs and complex red, black and white panels.

Painted Rock is a large sandstone monolith rising up from the flat, grassy Carrizo Plain.

Petroglyphs and pictographs are found on the ceilings, side and back walls of the natural alcoves in the center section of Painted Rock.

Petroglyphs and pictographs are found in the center section. Petroglyphs are occasionally found around the perimeter.
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One can only imagine the beauty of the former Chumash pictograph now reduced to a black, red and white remnant.

These painted red images with white highlights can be enhanced for detailed analysis.

The same image enhanced to show additional detail.

These pictographs were 'chalked'  years ago to define their outline. Chalking is a poor practice and is obsolete with today's digital photography.

In times past  townspeople would come to come the serenity of  Painted Rock to picnic. Unfortunately they also carved their names across the rock art.

The images in this panel may be Yokut in origin. The same image enhanced. see article on home page about digital enhancement via Decorrelation Stretch
Natural mineral leaching, rodent activity and bird droppings add to rock art deterioration. The same image enhanced shows additional painted elements.
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