Ancient Art: The Petroglyphs Of Atlatl Rock

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.

Atlatl Rock is a great place to see examples of these petroglyphs up close! Atlatl Rock can be accessed via a metal staircase that has been installed on the side of the red sandstone formation to take visitors right up to the viewing area in front of the petroglyphs.

The trail to Atlatl Rock itself is only 250 feet long and starts from the picnic area that includes picnic tables, shaded canopies, and restroom facilities.

Making your way up the steps and its few twists, it brings you to a viewing platform where you can stand on the metal deck in front of a well-preserved  collection of sybmols carved onto a dark patch of rock. As with the petroglyphs on Petroglyph Canyon Trail, they are easy to see because they are carved into the natural layer of darker material called desert varnish, exposing the red-orange rock underneath.

These petroglyphs depict people, animals, and symbols. Toward the top of the rock is a pair of horizontal carvings that represent an atlatl and a spear with a panel that explains:

An atlatl is a throwing stick or a dart thrower used by ancient tribes to give more force to their darts or spears. It was usually a wooden stick about two feet long with a handhold on one end and a hook on the other end. A slot cut in the tail end of the dart was set against the hook, allowing the dart to lie along the atlatl so that both could be grasped midway of the dart by the user.

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