2018 Rondy Petroglyph Tour
Trip report and photos by Jerry Dupree
One of the highlights of this year's Rondy was the petroglyph tour on the China Lake Naval Weapons Base. The trip was planned months in advance for a maximum of 20 people. Each person filled out a thorough three page security application form and our vehicles were searched for contraband such as fire arms, alcohol, or whatever. We had to wake up very early, pack and check out of our hotel, eat breakfast, and gather at the museum at 6:15 a.m. It turned out to be a "hurry up and wait" situation and we finally got under way and then stopped at the place where our vehicles were searched, which further delayed us. We finally got rolling again and were stopped due to some top secret activity ahead of us. We were not permitted to get out of our vehicles.
We got to the parking lot leading to a small canyon and there was a restroom. There were friendly and knowledgeable guides who were about a five to one ratio. We were required to be accompanied by a guide everywhere we went. Walking started out easy until we had to crawl and slide down rocks to a lower level. There are at least 10,000 petroglyphs on the rocks on both sides of the canyon. They date at least 20,000 years of human history. They depict animals such as big horn sheep, dogs, quail, people using early weapons, and unidentifiable designs. The petroglyphs were made by chipping or etching the accumulation of "desert varnish", leaving the underlying rock which creates the design. The age of the petroglyph can be determined by the amount of desert varnish that has formed back since the original design was made. Another way is by the type of weapon the figures are shown with. The earlier petroglyphs show a type of spear launcher, while the more recent ones are shown with a bow and arrow. The bow and arrow had many advantages including range, accuracy, and most importantly, the ability to launch an arrow laying down rather than a spear from a standing position.
As I looked at the petroglyphs that were made over a span of 20,000 years, I was wondering why the artistic ability remained unchained rather than evolving to better
artistry. In looking at children's art I notice more complex abilities as the children develop technique and ability. First graders tend to draw stick figures with each design standing alone. Second graders include scenes such as a sun with a smile, houses with smoke coming from chimneys, groups of people such as a family, clouds, and birds flying. By the third grade, the scenes show proportional arms, legs, clothing, hats, and detailed animals such as dogs and cats. As each child matures, so does their art. The pictures are from front and side angles with facial expressions. The petroglyphs don't show this kind of progression. I tend to think the "artists" were likely to be young children in each generation performing this activity while the adults and older children were hunting and gathering food. That's my theory based on observation of children expressing themselves in graphic art and clay sculptures.
I decided not to continue the trip further down the canyon and turned back. On the way back I slipped on a smooth rock and fell down. It could have been serious if I hadn't landed the way I did.
I could have broken ribs, arms, and wrists. I was stiff and sore for a long time after the incident. I am disappointed that I am no longer young enough and not in physical shape like I used to be. Nothing got hurt except my dignity. ~ Jerry