Friday, April 25, 2014

Indian Wells Canyon

These photos were taken on two separate half-day visits to Indian Wells Canyon. The reason for a second visit was that on the first trip I had been unable to locate two rock art sites at the very top of the canyon. Armed with better intelligence I returned to this alpine desert at the margins of the Southeastern Sierra.

On our first trip Jack and I had been taken aback by the sheer vistalicious beauty of the upper canyon which came as a complete surprise when judged, as we had, by the surrounding desert of the Ridgecrest area. Neither of us had expected the canyon to climb deep into that fragile zone of wildflowers, wind-twisted pines, rabbit bush and joshua trees. The cloud scudded skies cast roving shadows over the dips and swales of the foothills. Jagged stubs of coarse granite scraped the sky and in the distance loomed Owens Peak. It is a stark and stunning kind of place. I knew I had to return.

I could have picked a better day. A low pressure system was gushing into Southern California, bringing fierce gusts of cold wind to the desert. I set out from the Owens Peak trailhead, head down, buffeted by bursts of wind which pushed me around. Brief spits of rain and one or two pellets of hail hit me, and the gale roared in my ears. Clouds ripped across the peaks above me. I zipped up my collar and hunched into my pack. Setting out cross country brought me through fields filled with thousands of multicolored flowers, each species uniquely suited to the harsh vagaries of this environment. My feet clawed at granite and sand as I pushed uphill toward the gargantuan boulders scattered across the slope like icebergs which had calved off the peaks above. Eventually I reached a chunk of grey granite twice the size of my house. Tucked in a large overhang beneath the boulder were vibrant pictographs in red, white, yellow and orange. Humanoids and bulls eyes, and a large ladder in red and white kept company with two riders on horseback. A very rich panel, this one. 

Back out into the wind. Head down, eyes tearing and snot running in the cold alpine hurricane. Genuine rain and hail fell as I hacked my way through the tempest over the mile of cross country to the next site. Two particularly fierce gusts knocked me to the ground just a minute apart. I was grinning ear to ear. Love this shit as I may, I was real grateful to crawl into the painted overhang of another gargantuan hulk of fallen granite. 

This alcove boasted several of the same elements I'd seen at the other site including horsemen, but also had big 
horn sheep in white, sunbursts around bulls eye wheels, and a large flower shaped mandala which is theorized to have a representative connection to the ghost dance most often associated with Plains Indians and tribes of the Southwest. Both sites were remarkable, and beautiful. I feel lucky to have seen these.

After getting shoved around by the wind some more I reached the truck and headed down canyon to another point of interest, a mining camp tucked up a side canyon. Several acres of tilted canyon are occupied by rusting equipment, rusting trucks, shaky outbuildings and a dilapidated two story "house".  A half mile further revealed a couple collapsed mine shafts. All in all I was very happy with my explorations in Indian Wells.

I moved down the 14 toward Mojave and pulled out at Jawbone Canyon. I drove up to the top of the canyon while trying to identify landmarks for trying to pin down another site somewhere in there. I know that place a little better now though I still have a lot of questions about where exactly that site might be. I also need to check out the next big canyon south of Jawbone, Lone Tree.

I got buffeted by that same wind all the way back to Mojave and through the Antelope Valley. Though it wasn't exactly the day for it, I took time to pull out for the fields of gold, the Califonia Poppies which are blooming by the millions right now. That, my friends, is a site worth seeing. Take a drive out to the Poppy Preserve this week and you won't regret it.

Horsemen, Bulls Eyes, Anthropomorphs

Bighorns and Sunbursts
Bighorn Sheep
A mandala theorized to represent a ghost dance.
An air compressor for a drill, Nadeau-Magnolia Gold Mine
Nadeau-Magnolia Mine
The Siebert Family's Mining Camp

A look down Indian Wells Canyon
California Poppies gone nuts


  1. Great photos from a beautiful area! Lots of history there. Your photos are really good as posted, when I enlarged them, they were fantastic!

  2. Beautiful pictos. Surprisingly well preserved.

    Is there any potential for these sites to have been painted by "Rabbit" Roberts?

  3. Hey Nico,
    No sir, these go back a long ways. -DS