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Isabella Lake Pictographs

Photographs of Eastern Sierra petroglyphs & pictographs.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

The body of water called Isabella Lake (a.k.a Lake Isabella) is at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Kern River. This is a man-made lake consisting of two side-by-side dams that were started in 1948, and was finished by 1953. Little archaeological work was done in the area prior to forming the lake which flooded prehistoric habitat. Some salvage archaeology reports were not published and collections were either lost or reported 'whereabouts unknown'.

The lake is at an elevation of 2513 feet in the Southern Sierra Nevada's surrounded by mountain peaks ranging between 6000' and 9000' to the north and west, and 5000' to 6000' to the south and east. The lower elevation here makes for a temperate climate. Day time temperatures reach into the 90 from June through September, December and January lows average in the mid 30s. Snow is rare and fog occurs often in the winter months. Summer rain is light, less than 2" a month, but heavy rain falls December to May, peaking in January through March.

When the Europeans first explored this area they found it populated mostly by Tubatulabal native people and a few Paiute-Shoshone. There was some Mission influence in this area, but not as prevalent as on the west coast. Formal agriculture was not being practiced, although wild crops were tended and enhanced through burning and pruning, and native tobacco was tended and cultivated.

Geologically, the unvarnished granite boulders lend themselves more to pictographs than to the  petroglyphs which are occasionally found, especially in the hollows of river boulders. Some of these boulders make a ringing sound when struck. 'Ringing Rocks' that have the property of resonating like a bell when struck are also known as sonorous rocks or lithophonic rocks.

In places where the granite boulders formed small rock shelters or overhangs pictographs drawn with red pigment, rarely white or black, might be found. Individual icons are often geometric and include circle chains or circles connected by short lines, balanced geometric figures, sun bursts, star bursts, segmented ovates and occasional bighorn sheep with horns swept backwards over their oval body.

The rock art here may be the work of two different cultures: northern Uto-Aztecans from the nearby desert areas to the east or the Tubatulabals from later times.

The area is covered with granite boulders and outcrops which form small rock shelters and overhangs.

Interior shelter walls are sometimes coated with lichens, minerals leaching out of the rock, and soot. White and some red pictograph lines are still visible. 

Faint red hand prints on a granite shelter wall...

... can be better seen when subjected to Jon Harmon's D-stretch program.

This stained boulder rests near a roadway where hundreds of people drive by everyday.

The same boulder D-stretched reveals prehistoric images that are almost faded away.

Many of the images are fully exposed to the weather and chemical leaching, but even a small overhang helps protect the pictographs. D-stretching helps to clarify the less easily seen designs.
Pictographs on the inside of shelter walls usually fare better than pictographs exposed to the elements. This exposed 'pinwheel' has been coated with a thin layer of clear silica (I believe) leaching out of the parent rock. The coating serves to protect the pigment from further deterioration.
This boulder is inundated when the river water level is high. The imagery suggests a culture predating the Tubatulabal and Kawaiisu who live in the area today. In the river bed are boulders with water-worn scour holes which contain petroglyphs. Some of these decorated boulders make a ringing noise when struck with another rock.
High in the mountains above the Lake this domed rock shelter bears exterior pictographs as well as on the inside ceiling and back wall. Red pictographs on the inside wall and ceiling.
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