Kohta Circus Site (Summary Page)

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This page last updated on 02/09/2018

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MAP - Khota Circus Hike
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(Fig. 04) Click to Enlarge
Area Description: Located deep within the central portion of the Gold Butte region, about two miles southeast of Black Butte, the Kohta Circus petroglyphs, a.k.a. Khota Circus and Kohta’s Circus petroglyph area contains the largest petroglyph panel in the state of Nevada (Fig. 05). The Gold Butte region can be a barren but majestic, multi-colored sandstone landscape as attested to by the view of Black Butte (elevation 2,742 feet) in (Fig. 01). With only a few desert scrub, the deep canyon (Fig. 02) where the Kohta Circus petroglyphs are located is even more barren. Refer to (Fig. 03) for locations. There are several distinct panels at this site (Fig. 04). The lower panel contains so many glyphs it actually seems ‘cluttered’. Unfortunately, due to its location, just a few feet off the ground it has been weathered by the elements over the last millennia, making some of the glyphs barely visible. It is roughly 80 feet long and 6 feet high and is packed full of petroglyphs. It was so long that it was impossible to get a picture of it, end to end (Fig. 05). The image in (Fig 06) is just one small section near the center of it.

The upper grouping of panels (Fig. 07), located 30-40 feet above the canyon floor (Fig. 04), contain some of the most pristine and wonderfully preserved petroglyphs I have ever viewed. By the nature of its location, it is one of the best kept sites I have visited. Not only is it a difficult region to explore, but the high elevation and difficult access to the upper panels on the cliff have kept away the folks that might want to harm them. As to who was responsible for their creation is anyone’s guess. Over the years many different people utilized the resources of Gold Butte making it difficult to determine who made what rock art. The first to live here were the bands of Archaic hunter-gatherers. They were followed by the Virgin Branch of the Keyenta Anasazi. When the Anasazi left sometime around 1000AD, the Patayan and southern Paiute made Gold Butte their home. Scroll down to the section titled Kohta Circus Panel Highlights for more pictures and detailed information.
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09/30/2014 Trip Notes: The drive in to Whitney Pocket (Fig. 08) from the exit on I-15 on Gold Butte Road is about 23 miles. We used this spot as a staging area for the days’ adventures. Even though the drive in offered some nice views (Fig. 09) ), it was fraught with several washed out road areas (Fig. 10) along the way, the result of recent heavy rains. After unloading the Ranger, we drove back to Black Butte Road. Black Butte Road is one of the side roads off Gold Butte Road that provides 2WD, high-clearance vehicle access to the wild and rugged Gold Butte Region that lies west of Whitney Pocket. From the pavement, Black Butte Road runs southwest to the Falling Man Petroglyph Site. After the trailhead, the road gets rougher and is better suited for 4WD vehicles. At about 3 miles, after passing 21-Goats Rd, the road runs down into a big wash and forks. From the fork, one branch runs up onto the flanks of Bitter Ridge and just ends after 1.25 miles. The fork to the right is called Sand Wash Road and runs out to Lake Mead. A sharp left into the wash takes you around to the south side of Black Butte (Fig. 01). We followed this rocky wash to a point to the eastern edge of Black Butte, refer to (Fig. 03). Once we reached this point (Fig. 11), we decided that we would have to hike the rest of the way. The total drive from the Buffington Pockets to this point was approximately 5-6 miles. Refer to the yellow line on the lower left side of (Fig. 03). From here (refer to the black hiking line on (Fig. 03), we hiked greater than two miles before eventually finding the site. Because we had not been there before, we were doing some bush-wacking in the general direction of where I was estimating the site was located. Hiking over and along side some smooth slick-rock for the first quarter mile provided almost no clue that we were on the right path; to the point that Harvey was sure that I had screwed up and wanted to turn back. However about a quarter of a mile out we finally came upon the first of several cairns (Fig.12), that eventually led up to a fairly well defined trail (Fig. 13). Upon coming to a spot where we had to choose between a high route and a low route we chose incorrectly, taking the high route. Although our high route was an impressive and beautiful route (Fig. 14), it left us "rim locked" high above (Fig. 15), about a 1/3 of a mile east of the actual site. Yes, that’s Harvey on top of the ridge in (Fig. 15). We had no choice but to return the way we came and then take the low route down into the deep canyon (Fig. 02), 50-100 feet below the desert plain where the glyphs were located. The good news was, that once we spotted these petroglyphs, there was no doubt in our mind that they were the most impressive we had ever seen; making this rather arduous hike well worth the effort. After hiking back to the Ranger, we had lunch and several bottles of water before heading to the 21-Goats Petroglyph site.
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Kohta Circus Panel Highlights: The “Circus” panel gets its name from the large number of zoomorphs (animal glyphs) found on the main panel. The main “Circus” panel, extending nearly 80 plus feet in length, is located on the south wall at eye level between 3 feet and 7 feet above the grounds surface. The view in (Fig. 16) represents only about a quarter of the panel’s length, and appears to show a story of migration, with sheep and animals moving in mass in one direction (right) on the top portion of the panel and then back again (left) on the bottom portion of the panel. In many places, the sheep are connected nose to tail with a line. At various points, other symbols come into play to enhance the story. The many other different types of abstract symbols and drawings displayed here (Figs. 17-20) (click to enlarge) offer a variety of possible interpretations. Big-horned sheep, strong-looking men, decision symbols, curving lines, cross-hatched lines and even footprint shapes all have some sort of deeper meaning than what they are often seen as: art. All of these these symbols are included among the other glyphs that span the full length of the panel, indicating that they are part of the overall story. It is likely that many of the symbols may be  representations of individual clan symbols.
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The image below (Fig. 21) is in a section near the end of the lower Kohta Circus panel. It is unique in that it shows what clearly appears to be an elk or deer instead of the more common bighorn sheep. Notice that the elk's tail is connected to a spiral further down the panel; though truly intentional, its meaning is unknown. Even though there are no elk in this area today, that doesn't mean that they didn't inhabit the area hundreds if not thousands of years ago.
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In addition to many somewhat obvious glyphs of water birds, parrots, coyotes, bear tracks, turkey tracks, bighorn sheep, humanoids, burden baskets, and some seasonal and astrological signs, interpretations for the glyphs shown in (Fig. 22) have been offered by various persons who have studied the site. These include an eagle (Figure a.), turtles (Figure b.), an anthropod decision symbol (Figure c.), a calendar marker of time (Figure d.), three quail (Figure e.), geese (Figure f.), humming bird (Figure g.), an ant (Figure h.), tree of life symbol (Figure i.), serpent (Figure j.), line indicating a trail or journey (Figure k.).
2014 Kohta Circus-2
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The section of “high” panels, 30-40 feet above the canyon floor on the west wall, contains at least 4 separate panels (Figs. 23-25). Though some can be reached by climbing, the largest panel appears to be nearly impossible to reach – how did they do this precision work? The clarity and precision of the rock art in the largest panel, shown in (Fig. 23) is amazing. Not only are the figures precise and remarkably clear, they show very little sign of erosion. This panel contains a number of unique symbols; short rain symbols along the top, several burden baskets with an “H” or bat clan symbol, a Venus star, cross with closed portals at each end, spirals, a reclining flute player, a serpent, sprit figures, and a coyote. It has been suggested by some that this panel is a story about the lack of rain – the short rain symbol, extending over time from left to right. At the start of the story as the rain stops, everything is still OK, the burden baskets are upright - full. But as time goes on, things change – the burden baskets are upside down – empty. The crosses with the portal indicate that the people have completed their journey to the north / south / east / west and have settled in their “center place” – what went wrong? In the very center of the panel there is a reclining flute player (Kokopelli lying on his back), playing to the creator (Venus star) for rain. The people need to make a decision (see the “decision” symbol – figure with two spirals. Their decision is to begin another journey – see the third spiral attached. The flute player may also be playing to the ancestor spirits for assistance with the journey. Finally you see coyote with a spiral attached to him beginning the journey and leading the people. Even though we many never fully understand what these petroglyphs are trying to say, it is obvious that they are not just rock art, but rather “rock writing” trying to tell a story. A thesis titled "Katsinas Come to Kohta Circus", put forth by Eileen Green and Elaine Holmes was printed in a symposium of the Utah Rock Art Research Association (URARA) at Vernal, Utah in September 1999. That some of the glyphs found at Kohta Circus are a representation of a katsina mask is only theory, it makes for interesting reading. Here is a link to this paper ... Katsinas Come to Kohta Circus. In any case, we both felt privileged to have been able to witness this historic site.
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