Graffiti is obnoxious, for sure, and usually the manifestation of some sort of personality flaw--what kind of individual, on seeing a nicely kept fence, wall, or building, feels so overwhelming an urge to write his name in bubble letters or make a crude drawing that he finds it alright to steal hundreds of dollars of value and time from others?
Visual communication is perhaps instinctual, and there was a time when the most practical option was to write on the rocks. The ancient graffiti that resulted isn't obnoxious--it's "always been there" for our purposes--but instead intellectually captivating. What do the symbols mean? Who put them there--men, women, young, old, shamans, hunters?--and why?
The Coso Range, with its canyons of exposed basalt, served as a canvas for various cultures, most of them unknown, for over fifteen thousand years; here is the highest concentration of petroglyphs (prehistoric rock etchings) in the world. With exposure to the elements, the outer layer of the rock darkens; this varnish can be chipped away leaving a light petroglyph on a background of dark rock. Radioisotope dating has the earliest of these, mainly abstract rows of parallel lines in boxes, as being roughly sixteen thousand years old, coinciding with the earliest human settlement of western North America and contemporaneous with Altamira and Lascaux. Most, however, including the thousands of bighorn sheep, date to no more than three thousand years old, coinciding with the time the area was inhabited by the (proto-)Numic ancestors of the Shoshone and Paiute Indians.
Curiously, the local Indians did not eat much bighorn sheep, moreover, by the time of contact the meaning of the petroglyphs was lost on the local Indians. None have so concrete a meaning as the irrigation maps occasionally found among the petroglyphs of the Hohokam of southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Hypotheses abound, ranging from hunting magic to Numic water shamanism, but none have proved definitive. It could even be that some are true of petroglyphs of one period or another. The visitor is left to contemplate the etchings, ranging from the early boxed vertical lines and abstract swirls, sunbursts, grids, and dotted circles, to odd human figures with spiky hair and swirls for faces, hunters with bows and oversized penises, to animals like snakes, scorpions, sheep, and cats, to the many atl-atls, to one-offs like a line of stick-men wrapping around a boulder or a small human foot. The vocabulary of symbols is somewhat different than the more familiar Anasazi and Hohokam sites and also changes with age and canyon by canyon.
A backpacker in the Coso Range Wilderness with a GPS, topo map, and guide, should be able to locate petroglyphs in canyons, take in a few mountaintop views, and not see another human for days while bushwacking or hiking the several trails on BLM land; this is one of the more remote portions of the Mojave. Perhaps the best way to see the petroglyphs, and the way I experienced them, is to take the guided tour of Little Petroglyph Canyon offered by Ridgecrest, CA's Maturango Museum. The southernmost protected portions of the Cosos are on the China Lake Naval Reserve; access is restricted to US citizens accompanied by a guide from the base or other approved guides; the museum has several approved guides on staff and will handle the Navy paperwork for tour participants.
Obscurity, the BLM, the Navy, and the remoteness of the location have preserved in the Cosos a link to the earliest human past on the North American continent. Despite the significance of the site and its proximity to very popular ecotourism and sightseeing locations--Death Valley, Sequoia National Park, King's Canyon--one shouldn't have too much trouble getting on one of the Maturango Museum's tours if booked a month or two in advance. Hiking unguided in the BLM-managed portions will take more planning; I recommend doing one or the other if passing through the area, and the tour itself is worth the drive from Los Angeles, San Jose/San Francisco, or even Phoenix and Tucson.
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