collared lizard

The upper part of Greenwater Canyon contains primarily petroglyphs: symbols carved or "pecked" in flat rock faces that convey some kind of message, the meaning of which is unknown today. Some symbols may have designated family or clan "ownership" of a camp area. Some are seen in conjunction with geographic features such as water holes or springs. Others seem to be associated with animals hunted by these people for food and other uses. We may never decipher of the majority of them and can only surmise their meaning based upon what we know of the lifestyle of the artisans.

Greenwater Canyon also contains symbols in a rare painted form known as "pictographs." Native pigments were used to paint, rather than carve, their messages, usually in a sheltered rock overhang or cave. We have found three such locations within the canyon confines. Further research may uncover other such sites in the surrounding hills.

Although these sites are fairly well-known, their remote hidden location makes access difficult for casual visitors. The Death Valley National Park Wilderness Restoration Project should help to keep these priceless assets well-preserved for a long time to come. The following pictures provide an overview of the pictographs and surrounding features.

road to canyon
There are several routes that lead to the lower entrance to Greenwater Canyon. The "Petro Road" route begins a mile or so south of Death Valley Junction and winds past the Lila C borax mine. There are many devious side roads, so a map is a handy adjunct.

This is the trailhead at the lower canyon mouth.

Interesting volcanic boulders are strewn throughout the canyon. We call this the "Potato Rock."

The upper shelters are just rock overhangs with pictograph panels somewhat exposed to the weather.

This is the famous "horse and rider" pictograph. It has been variously dated from the 1700's to as late as the 1890's.

Additional painted figures at the upper rock shelter site.

Site occupancy is dependent upon the availability of water. At least two deep natural tanks (tinaja's) provided this resource for the early inhabitants. They are now an important water source for wildlife.

There is a deeper overhang a few hundred feet from the upper rock shelters that contains more pictographs.

A group of quadrupeds decorate the wall of the deep rock shelter. Note the antlers. These seem to depict deer or elk.

More pictograph figures.

Interesting multicolor pictograph.

While resting in the shade of the canyon wall on the way back to the car, we noticed this well-done inscription. My guess is that this could be from the early part of the last century due to the quality of the work.

This concludes our short pictorial tour of Greenwater Canyon. Since access is limited to "foot" or "hoof" take plenty of water and be prepared for a long hike through loose sand and gravel followed by some rock scrambling. There are many interesting things to see and you might run across something not seen by previous visitors.

I should mention that on our last trip, we heard something very large and solid scrambling around in an adjacent canyon. Since there are no signs of horses or burros there, we suspect that it may have been a clumsy Desert Bighorn sheep or maybe a lion-sized predator. Thoughts of a desert version of "Bigfoot" crossed our mind, as well.



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