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Bunkerville to Lake Mead - 21 Sheep and Falling Man Petroglyphs

St. George Jeepers Trail Report - Feb. 23, 2016

Bunkerville to Lake Mead - 21 Sheep and Falling Man Petroglyphs

To paraphrase one of the most witty and also best baseball players of the 20th century, "Nobody goes Jeeping nowadays, it's too crowded". Thirty-three vehicles gathered in Riverside, Nevada, near Mesquite, to run some trails and visit some very popular and relatively easily accessible petroglyph panels. The trip was led by Bud Sanders and Joan Hayes was tail- gunner.

At the traditional air-down

At this junction we turned onto 113 and proceeded toward Fisherman's Cove

Time for a pit stop

A view looking west, Lake Mead on the left of photo

The area we visited this day is known as the Gold Butte area. Gold Butte is a 500 square mile area 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, where the Sonoran, Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet. It is accessible from the Bunkerville exit off I-15. This is a desert and mountain wild land. Much of the area is covered with red and buff sandstone formations with lesser amounts of limestone and granite metamorphic formations which are heavily eroded and fault-twisted. The lower desert area is transected with many shallow, dry washes. These designated dry wash bottoms provide much of the off-road access in this area. Surface water is fairly difficult to find, except for the Virgin River in the western margin and Lake Mead. Winter temperatures are in the 60°s during the day and can drop into the 20°s at night. Summer midday highs often exceed 110°. 

The low desert vegetation includes creosote, bursage and cactus, which provide habitat for reptiles and small mammals. At mid elevation Joshua trees, blackbrush, cliffrose, serviceberry, oak, and manzanita provide a home for a multitude of birds and larger mammals such as deer and mountain lion. On the rocky slopes at the highest elevations are found desert bighorn sheep, small forests of Pinion and Juniper, and occasional stands of Douglas fir. 

Before reaching Lake Mead and the dry Fisherman's Cove, we turned off 113 and headed south on 114, the Narrows Road. 

Some interesting up-thrust geology in the area

Some of the "wildlife" in the area

More scenery, Virgin Peak in the distance

After coming up Sand Wash Road, our first petroglyph stop was the 21 Sheep (or Goats) panel

Bands of Archaic hunter-gatherers lived here, followed by the Virgin Branch of the Kayenta Anasazi. When the Anasazi left sometime around 1000 CE the Patayan and southern Paiute made Gold Butte their home.

This is one of the longest petroglyphs panels around. There are two rows of glyphs, with the upper row being at least 25-30 feet long. The upper row contains twenty-one zoomorphs (goats or big horn sheep) in a single line. Below and to the left of this depiction, there are two more sections containing some abstract glyphs, as well as another dozen zoomorphs. This entire panel seems to contain only one glyph that may be representative of a human figure. Though there were many Indian tribes who used this area as a migration corridor, the petroglyphs are probably Virgin River Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan). It has been estimated that some of these glyphs are more than 500 years old. 

LaVan Martineau, an orphan caucasian who was adopted by the Paiutes, extensively studied rock art and believes that the bighorn does not always necessarily stand for the actual animal, but rather represents travel and direction; that how the horns are "written" has specific meaning. Looking at these depictions you can see many different variations. Some "goats" are level, some tilted uphill others downhill. Some horns are arches, others right angles. Some feet are fluid and limber others like sticks and still others split in two at the hooves. Some are clearly traveling alongside a pecked line or "trail" and a couple are going the opposite direction. Some horns are longer over the back and others short. Some animals are full and others are stick-like figures.

Rock art “is abstract, and made by prehistoric hunter-gatherers some 1200 years ago. The images are symbolic, and even though archaeologists can’t interpret most of them, they still had meaning for the migratory people who once lived here.” The images may have functioned as territorial markers, as ways of telling stories and documenting events such as the Falling Man that we visited after this 21 Sheep Panel. Once this area was covered with archeological features such as agave roasting pits and a prehistoric campsites although now only the petroglyph’s remain. 

Mike Hess, a bit of a mountain goat himself, looks for a "different angle" to view the surroundings. 

A picturesque arch in the 21 Sheep Panel area

Below is a concrete dam constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC's) in the 1930's

The dam, built of concrete with an earthen front berm has collected a considerable amount of sediment over the decades

Lunch at the Falling Man petroglyph site. The Jeepers enjoyed some mid-60's temperatures, light breeze and great company.

Scenery around the Falling Man petroglyph site

Following is a series of petroglyph photos in the Falling Man area 

An early pioneer left his mark. Fortunately, the area is relatively free of vandalism despite its easy accessibility

Weathering clearly demonstrates the time span between early and later pecking. This is evident on most of the panels throughout the southwest where bands of people moved through over time. People obviously spent considerable time here despite, at least in present day, no water close by.

A panel often called the "Newspaper" Panel

This panel was created on a surface that seemed somewhat foreign to the area

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish modern pecking from original rock art 

Viewing the Falling Man petroglyph. What the glyph represents is not definitively known.

Exploring the area 

Balance Rock 

Mike Hess framed by a window

Karen Bishop through a window

Lining up to make their way through the "keyhole" window

Notice the small sheep panel to the right of the keyhole 

One characteristic that was almost universal as everyone made their way through the keyhole was a big smile. People were overheard to remark that they wouldn't have thought that they could traverse these rocks, but they said they were having a ball!

The "Rabbit Ears" petroglyphs

To learn more about rock art you may visit this interesting site: So concluded another great day on the trail!

Submitted by Bud Sanders

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