Black Canyon Petroglyph Site – Trip Notes for 11/13/2014

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(Fig. 01)
MAP-Pahranagat NWR
(Fig. 02)
Site Description: Generally known as the Black Canyon Petroglyphs, this 10-acre section of the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge was placed on the U.S National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as an archeological historic district having significant potential for information to be learned in the future. Back in 2009, there was an extensive volunteer project that documented over 100 rock art panels at seven sites in and around this location. Black Canyon itself is well-known for its concentration of what is referred to as Pahranagat Representational Style petroglyphs - a distinctive anthropomorph style composed of varying treatments of the human form, often called the Pahranagat Man. It is often a headless rectangular form containing internal decoration accompanied by an atlatl-like design. The body of the anthropomorph is sometimes a solic-pecked oval or somewhat rectangular form with a line protruding from the head and with down-turned arms and extended hands as in (Fig. 17) below. With a style that seems to be restricted in distribution to the Pahranagat Valley area, it seems to point to a localized cultural development. The representation of the atlatl would date some of these petroglyphs to more than a 1,000 years old. Overall, the projectile points, sherds, and hydration rim values found during the study reflect an Early Ceramic and Late Archaic use—within the last 1,500 years—with Late Archaic indicators significantly outnumbering Early Ceramic ones, underscoring occupations of Black Canyon within the last 750 years.

Site Habitation: Based upon the rock art found here, it appears that a small band of Pahranagats may have once inhabited this area. Located at the top of the large mound are several circular stone areas that may have once been part of a crude shelter. There is also evidence of grinding slicks that were used for the grinding or crushing of seeds and nuts with a stone.

(Fig. 03)
The Pahranagat Valley lies at the very edge of what is considered as the Fremont "zone". "Fremont" is the name archaeologists have given to a mysterious group of ancient people(s) who lived between 1,500 and 800 years ago. Though centered in Utah and named for its Fremont River, they spilled over into the neighboring states, including Nevada (Fig. 03). These nomadic peoples are often referred to as "hunter-gatherers" because they had to move from place to place following the seasonal ripening of important plants and the migration of game animals, often caused by the rains or lack thereof. The Fremont culture arose here at a time when there was much more water available. When water was available, they actually began to cultivate maize and other plants, becoming more sedentary. Many archaeologists think that the Fremont people may have developed from the Anasazi (Puebloan culture) (Fig. 03). Whether the Fremont people lived in this area or just passed through, still isn't known for sure. Some scholars think that they were forced out by the Southern Paiute. Whatever the case, it is commonly believed that long periods of drought led to the eventual demise of these cultures in the harsh desert areas. These types of harsh conditions such as a lack of food and water would cause people to travel farther to find them. When it became too hot and dry to grow crops, they would have had to abandon the location and go back to being full-time hunters and gatherers. Click here to learn more about this area ... Understanding Nevada Rock Art.

11/13/2014 Trip Notes (1st visit): The goal of today’s hike was to locate some petroglyphs in an area known as Black Canyon. This section of the property encompasses the largest portion of the refuge that is located on the east side of US-93 (Fig. 02). Entering the area from Black Canyon Road (Fig. 02). we were immediately confronted with one of the largest Cyprus trees I have ever seen (Fig. 04).  Fed by the Upper Pahranagat Lake to the north (Fig. 01) the canyon floor is a large watershed area (Figs. 05 & 06) with a long curving river that snakes it way through the entire length of the property. Not knowing where the petroglyphs were located, my hiking partners (Mary LaMasa and Robert Croke) and I chose to hike along the eastern boundary which is bordered by a long 100-200 foot high ridge-line (Fig 07). Even though we ended up finding several good examples Pahranagat Representational Style petroglyphs, later research indicated that one of the best Pahranagat Man petroglyphs is to be found in the large mound on the western side of the canyon next to the highway, as seen in the upper left of (Fig. 06). Click here for info and pictures from my second visit to Black Canyon a week later ... [More Black Canyon Petroglyphs]
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 06)
(Fig. 07)
Because the petroglyphs on the eastern ridge were located so high up, we had to climb three quarters of the way up the steep, crumbling ridge-line (Fig. 08 & 09) in order to capture any good pictures. Throughout the course of our hike, we found several stand-alone petroglyph panels that contained what appeared to be nothing more that a series of “pecked” dots (Figs. 10-13) (Click to enlarge) Even though I have no clue as to what they are trying to represent, the fact that there were so many of them makes me think that their significance was important. From the road below, Mary acted as our “spotter”, pointing out the locations of glyphs along the ridge, causing Bob and I to climb higher. As we neared the end of the ridge-line, along with some more abstract symbols, we actually found several panels containing zoomorphs (Figs. 14 & 15) and one with a very distinct anthropomorph of a Pahranagat Man (Figs. 16 & 17).
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
(Fig. 12)
(Fig. 14)
(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16
(Fig. 17)
After climbing back down off the ridgeline, we hiked north to the southern end of Upper Pahranagat Lake (Fig. 02). I was sorry to see how much the lake had dropped since my previous visit here. Much of the lakes" shoreline, as seen in (Figs. 01, 18 & 19), was under water that last time I visited here. Even though it is several weeks past prime "leaf peaking", we were still able to experience some nice fall color. After a brief period of watching birds and picture taking (Fig. 20), we began to hike up the road (Fig. 21) that follows the lake’s eastern shoreline to the upper dam where we joined up with the rest of our group for lunch before beginning the long two hour ride back to the Senior Center. Click here for info and pictures from my second visit to Black Canyon a week later ... [More Black Canyon Petroglyphs]
(Fig. 18)
(Fig. 19)
(Fig. 20)
(Fig. 21)
Click here for pics of my second visit to Black Canyon [More Black Canyon Petroglyphs]
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