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Ancient Art Gallery

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

There are not but a few museums and galleries in the High Desert area for those of you who are art lovers. An occasional art show, craft display or the San Bernardino Fair may whet your appetite. But there is one gallery you may not be aware of that is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and the admission is less than a half tank of gasoline.


A wall of Ancient Indian Petroglyph art. (Photo by J. Brouwer)

I am referring to the site known as Inscription Canyon, out to the west of Barstow. It contains perhaps the largest concentration of Ancient Native American petroglyphs in the Mojave Desert.

Petroglyphs are rock art created by Native American peoples that are scratched, pecked, and carved into the face of basalt rock from the lava flows in the area. Over time a desert varnish or patina builds on the surface of sun drenched rocks and boulders through a process where bacteria on the rocks will absorb trace amounts of iron and manganese and build a deposit on the rock often less than 100th of a millimeter.

The Native American's of the area, the Southern Paiute, found this varnish to be theperfect canvas for their art. Pecking away with bone, antler or stone to create art that has lasted centuries. In the Inscription Canyon area you can find complex geometric patterns, rainstorms, big horned sheep, religious renderings, shield bearers, and a even a piece one local has termed the "Birdman."


"Birdman." Ancient Indian Petroglyph Art.

The canyon runs north and south with the ancient art on both sides. I suspect at one time hundreds of years ago water ran through this spot making it quite an enjoyable studio of sorts. There are many speculations as to the reasons the art was made. Many say it was religious shamans, whom perhaps were relaying visions, others say they document historical events, and yet others will say it is the graffiti of the day, simple doodles of Indians sitting by the stream perhaps with their families enjoying the day.

We may never know their purpose however we can certainly enjoy their beauty in its own natural landscape. I strongly suggest you bring a camera, water, sketchpad, and a sense of adventure on this trip. There are many other things to see in the immediate area and it will be a day trip to remember. A high clearance vehicle or 4-wheel drive is recommended. Please do not remove anything from the site except what you take in.

To reach Inscription Canyon, from Barstow take Irwin Road north to Copper City Road and turn left. At BLM route EF373 turn left again. The site is about 10 miles after the turn. It is accessible by foot from there.

First printed in the Daily Press News.

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