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| Written by Danny Siler & Barb Midlikoski, photos by Midlikoski | Trip Reports

2014 Trip Report China Lake Petroglyphs

China Lake Petroglyphs

Saturday, April 26

By: Danny Siler & Barb Midlikoski

Saturday, April 26 at 9:30 a.m. 18 of us met at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest. DE members were Mary and Charles Hughes, Jay and Sylvia Lawrence, Ron Lipare, Barbara Midlikoski, Ellen and Nelson Miller, Danny and Norma Siler, Mignon Slentz, Mike Volmert and several non-DE members. Original time was 6:30 a.m. but 2 days before the trip the Navy rescheduled the trip to 9:30 a.m. No complaints were heard. Since the petroglyphs were on the grounds of the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake we tour on dates and times approved by the military. The Coso Rock Art District contains the largest concentration of prehistoric petroglyphs in North America.

     The museum provided three guides for our group of 18. They were knowledgeable and experienced volunteers.

     First order of the morning was watching a 10-minute slide show as the introduction to our trip.

     We had submitted our names and identification two month’s in advance to obtain security clearance. At the naval base entrance our ID was checked off the list and all vehicles were closely searched for contraband (none found).

     We would be driving to the Coso Mountain Range.

   In a short time our 7 vehicle caravan was off and running. The first 40 miles was a paved road through the desert and we had a printed brochure which would point out various interesting sights along the way. Next was 6 miles of unpaved road to the canyon. The parking lot had welcoming toilets. Little Petroglyph Canyon is officially named on the maps as Renegade Canyon. Our hike dropped into it about 20 feet deep. At times it was a little deeper and usually about 50 - 75 feet wide. The canyon is broken ancient lava flow, hence all the rocks and boulders. We traveled on foot a distance of about 2 miles.

     There are petroglyphs everywhere in this canyon; thousand of them! Almost every rock has these ancient carvings (peckings). Some rocks have up to 5 or 10 or more on each.

     The majority of the designs are animals and humans. Our guides explained to us how to differentiate bighorn sheep from deer, dogs, coyote, mountain lions and birds.

     Our guides explained to us that the petroglyphs are older than the introduction of horses and we would not be seeing any of those. Our guides explained some of the human forms are shaped like shamans while some are anthropomorphic figures and others just plainly look like aliens from another planet!

     Some etchings look like bookkeeping records or board games and some objects are obvious like a bow and arrow or atlatl spears.

     Some are impossible to understand and you are allowed to make up a description. For example, I saw something that looked like a TV set with rabbit ears. Other times I thought I was seeing jelly fish or octopus. Another design reminded me of a 12 candle menorah.

     Along the way we saw small brass survey markers on the ground. Apparently Cal-State Fresno has made a complete survey of the rock art in the canyon and also conducts archaeological studies with the students.

     One section of the canyon narrowed into a “slot” canyon. We each took a turn honing our canyoneering skills squeezing down and through the tight spaces, dryfalls, and some


   After about three hours on foot we returned to our cars, made a group photo, and we were back on the road. Our guides told us this was also an area with wild horses. Sure enough, at one point we slowed down our vehicles and saw three wild horses in the distance.

     We exited the naval base without incident and continued to the museum to visit the gift shop and say our good-byes to each other.

     It was a safe day for everyone and a good time was had by all. The weather was wonderful – 65 degrees, blue skies with white clouds, and no wind!

     For info on future petroglyph tours go to