Archaic Petroglyph Sites, Hudspeth County, TX

Desert Archaic Petroglyphs

A couple of days ago a friend took us out into the desert to the Finlay mountains to check out a couple of petroglyph sites.  The term “archaic” describes people who lived in our area between about 6,000 BC and 200 AD.  Petroglyphs are drawings on stone made by scratching into the surface of the rocks.  There are some pictographs (rock paintings) at Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site that were left by the Desert Archaic peoples, so we are familiar with some of their styles of expression.  But the number we’ve seen at the park is nothing compared to what we saw at these sites.  

These sites are best accessed with 4-wheel drive.  When one gets off the Interstate, one ends up on a grid of dirt roads which are not necessarily in great condition.  Our all-wheel drive car did okay on the roads except for one place near the first site we visited, which definitely required 4-wheel drive.  No, we didn’t get stuck.  We parked our car and got in the back of our friend’s jeep and made it in and out of the site just fine.  

There are several sites that the Desert Archaic people frequented in the Finlay mountains.  Each of the sites is isolated from the others: in other words, you can’t just walk for a couple of miles along the base of the mountains and see continuous evidence of their habitation.

At the first site we visited, the petroglyphs were somewhat scattered about.  In some places there was only one petroglyph on an expanse of rock; at others there were several in the same location.  One of the most interesting here was a petroglyph that showed where you could see the sun at the solstice time, and also showed the shadow the sun makes when it is above the notch in the mountain.  The friend who took us out here is very interested in paleo-astronomy, and has spent enough time observing the sun here that he has actually seen the shadow that is depicted in the petroglyph.  There were also animal figures (mostly deer) some linear figures, and a few that looked very much like Mayan forms.  The most unusual petroglyph we saw here was of a fish.  The area was under water at one time, and we found fragments of shells that prove it.  But that water was long gone by the time this petroglyph was carved.

At the second site we were blown away by the sheer numbers of petroglyphs.  The majority here seemed to be of animals, plus there were quite a few images of Shumla projectile points (dating from 6000 BC to 200 BC), and some astronomical ones.    We also saw a few bedrock mortars, and a couple of holes that might have served as food storage areas, when covered with a slab of rock.

Seeing all these ancient petroglyphs was a very awe-inspiring experience.  It is sad to know that these relics of ancient habitation are not protected in any way, and are in fact located in an area that is supposed to be a fracking site in the near future.  As we mentioned earlier there is also a grid of streets laid out in the area.

This area was interesting from at nature standpoint also.  The most common cacti growing out there were eagle’s claw and Texas rainbow, neither of which we see growing close to home.  The biome around the Finlay mountain is desert grassland, so the vegetation is noticeably different from what we are used to.  

The driving involved in seeing these images is not for the faint of heart.  It takes skill and focus to navigate those roads.  Our car now has a lot of scratches on the passenger side from a too close encounter with a mesquite bush.  All that driving on dusty roads helped us to understand the clouds of dust we see kicked up by vehicles driving on similar roads while we’re driving along the interstate.  By the time we were ready to leave the second site, the back bumper of our car looked like this.

This excursion has shown us that it is worth exploring the less populated areas, because you never know what you will find.  We are grateful to know someone who is willing to show us these treasures.  Pics from the first site we visited are in this album and the second site pics are in this album.

Desert Archaic Petroglyphs showing Shumla Projectile Point (upper left)

Visit December 8, 2014

© Susan L. Stone 2015