Ash Springs Rock Art Site

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Introduction: As I began to discover more and more rock art sites during my hikes over these past several years, I have become witness to far too many examples of where persons had seemed fit to deface them with graffiti and other examples of damage. Eventually I realized that the sharing of my hiking adventures could have the potential to increase public exposure, and thereby increasing the possibility for even more damage. As a result, I decided to preface each of my rock art pages with the following information to help educate visitors about the importance of these fragile cultural resources. Before scrolling down, I implore you to READ the following ... as well as the linked page providing guidelines for preserving rock art.

Here are a few simple guidelines you can follow that will help to preserve these unique and fragile cultural resources that are part of our heritage. Guidelines for Preserving Rock Art. If you would like to learn more about the Nevada Site Stewardship Program, go to my page ... Nevada Site Stewardship Program (NSSP).
(Fig. 01)
MAP-Ash Springs Petroglyphs Site
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Directions: From Las Vegas, take I-15 north towards Salt Lake City. Travel about 22 miles and turn left onto US-93. Follow US-93 for about 79 miles. The Ash Springs Rock Art Site is located approximately 6.9 miles north of Alamo on the east side of HWY 93 slightly north of mile marker 45, across the road from the white trailer with the white picket fence. Shortly after pulling off US-93, you must open a barbed-wire gate (Fig. 01) to enter the site. Be sure to close upon entering and leaving.

Site Description: The Ash Springs Rock Art Site is a relatively small area of lightly desert-varnished boulders on a low hill overlooking the verdant Pahranagat Valley. It is located in the small community of Ash Springs, a desert oasis that is part of a series of natural springs in the area, which sits in the middle of the beautiful high desert landscape of the Pahranagat Valley. Ash Springs has two natural hot springs, Big Ash and Little Ash, which still today attracts visitors year round. Located just east of town, the site extends to the top of the eastern situated hill directly behind it known as "Shaman's Vista". Typical of many Great Basin rock art sites, the Petroglyphs found here are engraved; etched onto rock faces by pecking, abrading, scratching or a combination of these techniques. All petroglyphs at Ash Springs are pecked and display a wide range of line widths. Though there is easily identifiable formal trail, the route begins at the metal sign-in register, about a 100 yards past the barbed-wire gate. There is a rough trail map in the handout inside the sign-in register (Fig. 02). Begin by turning to the right and heading northeast. Look for diamond-shaped route markers along the way. The total distance is approximately .35 miles and is an easy walk. The elevation of this site is between 3,600 to 3,800 feet. You should allow at least one hour; longer if you decide to hike to Shaman's Vista. The best time to visit this site is during the cooler months of Spring and Fall. Hiking here during the summer months can be brutal.
(Fig. 03)
Site Habitation: The site is predominantly a habitation site comprised of two high intensity areas of domestic activity and includes 12 semicircular cobblestone alignments along with associated lithic (stone tools) material. With its large boulders sheltering people from the cold, this area is known to have been a winter site for the Pahranagats, and might have accommodated a small village of 25-40 individuals. The Pahranagats' primary political and economic unit was the mobile extended family. These small parties ranged throughout the region during the course of the seasonal round to take advantage of the varying availability of local resources. Despite the Pahranagat's excellent survival skills, starvation was often prevalent in the spring when winter stores were depleted and spring food plants had not yet begun to germinate. When food plants did become available, populations dispersed along the valley floors during the spring and summer. Seeds, roots, tubers and berries were collected and small animals were trapped and eaten. The practice of horticulture yielded crops of maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, lamb's quarters and winter wheat. Garden plots were situated along the margins of lower altitude lakes and marshes and were watered by irrigation ditches. During the fall, people came together in large gatherings for the purpose of harvesting pinenuts, communal rabbits drives and mourning ceremonies. Water was ordinarily obtained from snow melt off, however, the constant availability of warm water at Ash Springs, just a short distance away (Fig. 03), rendered this unnecessary and made this site extremely desirable.

In general, less food gathering took place during the winter months, although there was occasional hunting. The presence of debitage, or stone flakes, indicate that many stone tools, such as knives, drills, scrapers, hammerstones, and a variety of projectile points, were created here. Sherds of Fremont-like greyware have also been found, indicating the presence of these Southwestern groups who co-existed in this area along with the Pahranagats c. AD 500-1250. The Pahranagats, like other culture groups in this area, represented a long-standing tradition (c. 12,000 years) of diverse lifeways which included hunting and gathering combined with periods of sedentism. The Pahranagats also had a highly specialized basketry tradition. Baskets specifically fashioned to gather and process plant foods included burden baskets, winnowing and parching trays, bowls, and seed beaters. Approximately AD 1000, a major subsistence change may have occurred when hunting was increasingly replaced by the consumption of plants and small animals (i.e., rodents, birds, insects) as major sources of nutrition. Horticulture became an important subsistence activity, a practice which may have been borrowed from the Virgin River Anasazi, another Southwestern group present in this area along with the Fremont's. Other than this, no major disruption is inferred throughout this cultural sequence until the nineteenth century. At this time native inhabitants were severely affected by the presence of European settlers in the area, particularly during the great mining boom of the 1860's. Indigenous populations were displaced, eradicated or at least greatly attenuated. Click here to learn more about this area ... Understanding Nevada Rock Art.
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11/13/2014 Trip Notes: As neither of my hiking partners, Robert Croke (Fig. 04) or Blake Smith (Fig. 05) had ever been to this site, we decided to come here for some more “petroglyph” viewing after a morning of hiking around the Black Canyon Petroglyph site at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. Picking up the “handout” from the kiosk, we used its crude map to make our way around the site. Because many of the petroglyphs here are barely recognizable due to the constant deterioration caused by weathering from the natural elements of sun, rain and wind, trying to line up the descriptions with their locations is rather difficult. As noted upon my previous visit, many of the glyphs found here are abstract in design (Fig. 06) making them very difficult to interpret. Without doubt, the most common are the zoomorphs (representations of four legged animals) mixed with a few anthropomorphs (human-like figures). Read more below.
(Fig. 05)
(Fig. 06)
The pictures in (Figs. 07 & 08) are two of the better representations of anthropomorphs found here. Based upon what appear to be large breasts, the figure in (Fig. 07) is known as "Vavavoom Woman". The pictures in (Figs. 09-12) show some of the better representations of zoomorphs. The fact that some of these panels contain nearly a dozen representations of sheep clearly emphasizes their importance, either as a food staple, hunting ritual or religious significance. The boulder in (Fig. 09) has two rock art panels which include several zoomorphs. As you can see, they are quite damaged. It even appears that some original rock art is now gone as the result of natural weathering processes and/or vandalism. There were at least two examples (Fig. 12) showing atlatls sticking out of the back of mountain sheep. Notice the animal represented in the lower left corner of the panel in (Fig. 11) is that of an elk verses a bighorn sheep.
(Fig. 07)
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)
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(Fig. 11)
(Fig. 12)
06/21/2012 Trip Notes: On the return from a week-long camping trip with Harvey Smith to Spring Valley State Park, north of Pioche, NV, we made a side trip to the Ash Springs Rock Art Site (Fig. 13) at Ash Springs, Nevada. As you can see from the map in (Fig 02), there are roughly 18 separately identified panels located on the desert varnished rocks found at this site. Unfortunately, many are barely recognizable due to the constant deterioration caused by weathering from the natural elements of sun, rain and wind. To us it appeared that much of the imagery we observed here was clearly non-representational (Figs. 14 & 15), though I’m sure it would have been clearly understood by the cultures who created it. Some of the more recognizable glyphs are zoomorphs and resemble animals, including all four-legged types or quadrupeds, as well as birds, insects, and other animals (Fig. 15), with mountain sheep being the most common. Human figures, or anthropomorphs are some of the other recognizable forms found at Ash Springs and often exhibit striking variations in design (Fig. 16).
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Slideshow Description:
The slideshow above contains 44 pictures that were taken on two visits to this petroglyph site.


Reference Materials:

Manuscript written by Kenneth C. Clarke