Ancient Art: Petroglyph Canyon Trail At Valley Of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park is home to one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Nevada. The petroglyphs located here, have been dated by archaeologists, and some have been found to be over 3,000 years old.

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The first known inhabitants of the Valley of Fire where the Gypsum People who visited the region 1800-4000 years ago. They were nomadic hunter-gatherer people and it’s believed that travelled here for ceremonial and religious purposes, but never resided permanently.

Later groups that spent time in the Valley of Fire were the Basket Makers, the Anasazi Pueblo People who farmed the Moapa Valley, and later the Southern Paiute. Similar to the Gypsum people, it’s believe that none of these groups lived full-time in the Valley of Fire since there are no water sources other than the natural stone tanks (i.e. Mouse’s Tank).

It’s believe that the petroglyphs found here were created over a 3,000 year period by members of each of these cultural groups.

Petroglyph Canyon Trail (a.k.a. Mouse’s Tank Trail) is located about a mile from the visitor center off of White Domes Road. The picnic area includes red sandstone formations on the opposite side of the road and is a great place for a lunch break before heading down the trail.

Starting out from the sign, you head southeast along the bottom of a sandy wash that includes red sandstone formations on both sides. It’s asked that visitors avoid climbing on the surrounding rocks or touching the formations to avoid destroying the these artifacts that were left behind, by the Native Americans who visited here.

After only an 1/8 of a mile, obvious groups of petroglyphs can be seen, etched into the desert varnish, a layer of dark rock on the top of the sandstone. With the varnish etched away, it reveals the orange rock underneath, making these petroglyphs easily visible. The desert vanish itself is composed of iron and manganese that leached from the rock and evaporated over the course of thousands of years.

A short distance beyond is another area of petroglyphs on a tar-colored boulder set back from the trail and also on the left, easily the largest grouping on the hike. It includes numerous figures, animals, and symbols etched into the rock.

As you proceed down the sandy wash trail, you’ll see sporadic other petroglyphs as well as a third main cluster. The trail ends at Mouse’s Tank, a natural stone tankthat stores water year round. It’s named after “Little Mouse”, a Southern Paiute Indian who hid out in this area in the 1890’s after being accused of murdering two mining prospectors.


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