Arrow Canyon Site Rock Art

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This page last updated on 02/11/2017
(Fig. 01)
Area Description: Located off of NV-168, northwest of Moapa and Glendale, about 60 miles from Las Vegas, Arrow Canyon and the Pahranagat Wash runs along the northeastern edge of the Arrow Canyon Wilderness Area. The canyon itself is characterized by vertical and overhanging walls that are more than 200 feet high. At its narrowest points, the bottom of the canyon is about 20-feet wide. These sheer cliffs that are so tall and close together in places that sunlight rarely reaches the bottom. There are extensive petroglyph panels on the rock walls of Pahranagat Wash, above, below, and in Arrow Canyon. Many of these petroglyphs are inscribed on carbonate rock walls that lack patina, which is unusual. In addition to being able to find evidence of fossils such as crinoids, brachiopods, corals, and other sea life, in the gray limestone, if you look hard, you may find other evidence of prehistoric use including agave roasting pits, shelter caves, rock alignments, lithic scatters, stone scrapers, and broken arrowheads. 
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Area History: To this day, Arrow Canyon is considered sacred by the Paiutes. The Moapa Band of Paiutes still resides in the area just east of the Arrow Canyon Range. The petroglyphs in the canyon were likely carved by both the modern Paiutes and their historical precursors, possibly as far back as the Desert Archaic peoples. The area is considered so sacred that Ghost Dance ceremonies were held nearby.
“According to local legend, at one time when the Moapa Valley Paiutes and the Pahranagat Valley Paiutes were at war, two of their war parties met suddenly in the canyon. Rather than engage in what would surly prove to be a mutually disastrous combat within the narrow rock confines, the two parties called a truce and fired all of the arrows high into the canyon walls.” (1)
Legend also has it that the Moapa and Pahranagat Paiute bands formed a peace treaty over the course of many years. To confirm their commitment to the treaty, it became a yearly event for members of both bands to come to this sacred canyon and shoot arrows into an inaccessible crack high on the canyon wall. In the 1930s, the CCC built a concrete dam at the head of the canyon, presumably for flood control. In 2002, congress designated the 27,530-acre Arrow Canyon Wilderness, with Arrow Canyon forming its eastern boundary.
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The Petroglyphs: The predominate concentration of petroglyphs at Arrow Canyon are found on a large rock outcrop (Fig. 01) and (Top right in the collage found in Fig. 03), located just before entering the narrows about a mile from the trailhead, up a wash filled with water-polished cobbles and rocks (Fig. 02). Because there are several instances where these petroglyph etchings meet the ground (Bottom right in the collage below - Fig. 03), it leads one to think that the erosion filling the wash over hundreds of years may actually be covering several feet of petroglyphs. It is evident by the vast number of petroglyphs on this rock outcrop that this area has religious significance for the nearby Moapa Tribe. Unfortunately, it was sad to see that some people had seen fit to deface some of rock faces that contained these impressive representations of past ages. Though much fewer in number, there are some more on a few of the cliff walls low to the ground (Fig. 04) further up the canyon towards the dam.
(Fig. 02)
(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)
2012 Arrow Canyon Petroglyphs
(Fig. 05)
2015 Arrow Canyon
(Fig. 06)
As you can see from the examples in the two collages above (Figs. 05 & 06) many of the motifs are angular, abstract, geometric, and enigmatic. Straight lines, arcs, and circles are combined to form apparently unrelated designs that some have likened to astronomical phenomena but that are more likely the product of psychedelic visions. Many of the individual glyphs are quite similar to other Great Basin glyphs I have observed up in the Pahranagat Valley, north of this area. The only representational glyphs in this style are hand, paw, and hoof prints, and some human stick figures, usually male. Because many of the abstract geometric designs appear disorganized and random, it is highly likely that they are products of visions induced during altered states of consciousness. Comparative studies have demonstrated that during trance, all people, regardless of their place of origin, experience the same visual abstractions. Also, images such as bear paws, snakes and bighorn sheep, as well as a couple of anthropomorphs that appear to have “horns” on their heads, are commonly associated with images drawn as part of a shaman’s vision quest. As is apparent by the different degree of coloring found on some of the panels (Fig. 07), it appears some images have have either been repaginated or added at a later time.
(Fig. 07)
(1) quoted from Nevada Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary By Helen S. Carlson
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