by Tom Garrison
© 2017 Tom Garrison
I dare say most of us love a good archeological adventure story. After all, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a huge hit. A feature in all such movies is deciphering some ancient writing. If you enjoy playing an amateur archeologist interpreting ancient symbols, you might want to examine the rock art (petroglyphs) at Ash Springs Rock Art Site in Nevada. My wife Deb and I enjoy viewing and trying to understand rock art and our latest adventure took us to Ash Springs.
Rock art is etched into rock faces by pecking, abrading, or scratching, or a combination of these techniques. What does it mean? Ceremonial and sacred knowledge? Perhaps marking game trails? Designating territory? Astronomical markers pertaining to phenomena such as solstices? Today it is difficult to understand the meaning of most rock art. That does have a positive side in that we can use our imaginations to attribute meaning. In any case, treat rock art for what it is, cultural artifacts. Do not touch or deface rock art you come across. Let future generations enjoy it as you do.
Ash Springs Rock Art Site is on a hill overlooking Pahranagat Valley near the town of Ash Springs, Nevada. The community has a population of about 150 with ranching the principal industry. The site is on Bureau of Land Management managed land in and there is no fee or permits necessary for this hike.
This area of intriguing landscapes is a Mojave Desert scrub environment with Joshua Trees at the higher elevations. It is also the home to bighorn sheep, coyotes, bobcats, kangaroo rats and many species of lizards and birds. The lucky visitor may also catch sight of golden eagles and great-horned owls. A large jack rabbit scurried away while we wandered the petroglyph site.
The earliest inhabitants of the Pahranagat Valley were part of the Southern Paiutes. They lived in or traveled through the valley from around 6,000 years ago. Dating rock art is difficult, but we can safely assume the petroglyphs are hundreds to thousands of years old.
We left St. George on an early December morning and headed south on Interstate 15. About 30 miles past Mesquite we left the interstate via the Glendale exit (exit 91) and headed northwest on Highway 168. After traveling 23 miles the road intersected Highway 93 and we turned north (right) onto Highway 93. Another 41 miles and we reached Alamo, the big city (population 1,080 per the 2010 census) just south of Ash Springs. The unsigned dirt road turnoff to the petroglyph site was 6.6 miles from the can’t miss Sinclair gas station with the large American flag in Alamo. We made a sharp right (east) turn onto a dirt road. (If you miss it, easy to do, the turnoff is .2 miles south of the Shell gas station in Ash Springs.) The turnoff is nearly a U-turn, then the road leads east for a bit and then southeast. Within .1 mile we encountered a barbed wire gate blocking the road. We opened the gate, drove through, and closed it behind us. After another .1 mile we came to fork in the road. Stay to the left and park in the area next to the left fork with a rusty sign-in register.
Those coming from Las Vegas can take Interstate 15 north, then onto Highway 93 north at exit 64. After that, follow the directions above.
The trailhead elevation is 3,593 feet with less than a 100 feet elevation changed spread over less than one mile—no lengthy steep sections. The temperature was in the mid-60s as we began our trek. Somehow the typical blue Utah sky followed us to Nevada—a beautiful day.
From the sign-in register the route heads northeast, then north, then west, and finally loops back to the trailhead. There is not an established trail. Look for metal diamond shaped route (with arrows) markers and petroglyph site markers (with numbers) attached to lengths of rebar stuck in the ground. There are 18 markers, many of them damaged—and we found them all. The petroglyphs, on about 60 boulders, are mostly abstract—circles, rectangles, and complex designs—with some human and animal images. Most of the boulder surfaces are deeply eroded and some of the rock art barely visible.
We did find several interesting abstract designs, a couple of well-preserved big horn sheep, and some vaguely human shapes. The view of Pahranagat Valley to the west from the low hills of the site were impressive.
We wanted to end the adventure with a trip to Ash Springs springs. Unfortunately, public access has been, and remains, closed for several years.
The easy hike was less than one mile round trip and took about an hour with many photo stops. Put on your sleuthing hat and head to Ash Springs for an enjoyable outdoor adventure. Who knows, maybe you will decipher the Ash Spring petroglyphs.
An avid hiker for more than 25 years, Tom’s latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume Two was (September 2016) awarded 2nd place in the non-fiction category of the League of Utah Writers published book contest. It is available at Amazon.com and the Desert Rat outdoor store in St. George. He can be reached at: email@example.com