For years we’ve driven back and forth between San Diego and Phoenix on I-8, zipping by the exit for Painted Rock Petroglyph Site. I’d always look out the window thinking wistfully, “Oooh, that must be so interesting!” but it is a ways off the interstate and we were always on a mission to get wherever we were going and didn’t have time to stop.
On a recent trip we decided to make Painted Rock Petroglyph Site our destination, and we scooted off the freeway onto a paved side road that wandered off into the desert.
In a few short miles we arrived at the site and were delighted with what we found.
Following a trail around the rock pile, we found that petroglyphs literally covered almost every boulder, rock and small stone.
Unlike so many petroglyph sites where the rock art is located high up on a wall or far across a canyon, these petroglyphs were right there in plain site at our feet.
On one side of the huge rock pile there’s a dry camping campground with lovely widely spaced sites. A few of the campsites are right alongside the trail where campers can have a view of petroglyph covered rocks right from the RV window!
The next day we wandered further and were amazed at the wide variety of patterns, designs and images we saw on these petroglyph adorned rocks.
Some of the designs were easy to decipher, like parallel squiggly lines that surely describe the water sources that can be found nearby in the Gila River.
Others were just crazy designs that seem indecipherable.
Almost every face of every rock had at least one design on it.
There were also lizards with tails — very similar to the little guys we saw scurrying between the rocks — and some images of people too.
It was also intriguing that there were quite a few bullseye types of designs. Some were concentric rings.
And some were spirals. Was this accidental or did the two styles of circular designs have different meanings? Or were these things just random doodles after all?
It is thought that these petroglyphs were pecked out of these rocks by the Hohokam people who lived in this area between 350 AD and 1400 AD, the same time frame spanning the Mayans in Central America and the ancient Khmer in Cambodia and Thailand.
There are ancient dwellings and rock art sites all over the southwest and they are impossible to protect from roaming vandals. Sometimes they bear scars from bullets or spray paint and sometimes an over eager collector has cut the entire face of the rock off to take elsewhere.
But there are still thousands of pristine images carved on rocks all over this area that have survived as much as 1,000 years or more in the hot desert sun. Staring at them stirred my imagination as I pondered what motivated the ancient people to leave this legacy of art work strewn across the massive expanse of barren and inhospitable landscapes that makes up this part of the Sonoran desert.
If you find yourself traveling on I-8 with your RV about 18 miles west of Gila Bend, Arizona, take a detour off the highway and check out the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site!
More links below.
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More info about Painted Rock Petroglyph Site near Gila Bend, Arizona:
- Painted Rock Petroglyph Site – Wikipedia Page
- Location of Painted Rock Petroglyph Site – Interactive Google Maps
Other blog posts about rock art, petroglyphs, pictographs and other ancient glyphs:
- Newspaper Rock Utah – Petroglyphs and Rock Art from the Ancients 04/06/16
- Saguaro National Park Petroglyphs – Tucson Mountains, AZ 02/20/16
- Dinosaur National Monument, UT – More than fossilized dinosaur bones! 10/12/12
- Oaxaca’s “Mitla Tour” – Ancient Zapotec Ruins & More! 02/28/12
- San Rafael Swell, UT – Pictographs & Dinosaur Prints 10/12/07
More great dry camping campgrounds:
- City of Rocks State Park, NM – RV Camping in the Hoodoos! 12/03/15
- Boondocking at Big Bend National Park – Cheap & Scenic RV Camping 03/26/15
- Wupatki Nat’l Monument – Ancient Indian Ruins & Great Camping in AZ! 08/25/11
- Valley of Fire, NV – A Cauldron Cooled 09/25/09
- Zion NP, Kodachrome Basin & Snow Canyon, UT – Great Red Rocks! 10/31/07
- Goblin Valley, UT – Where the Ghosts Are 10/16/07
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