Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site, Nevada

Our annual 4th of July BBQ and reunion with friends from "the old days" brings us to Gardnerville, Nevada, every year. As usual we had a terrific time - and ate way too much! It is always wonderful to catch up with old friends, and this year almost everyone's children, and in some cases their grand children, were able to attend so it was a particularly historic year.

There was also an additional treat this year. Our hosts, knowing of our interest in rock art, asked if we were interested in seeing the largest petroglyph site in the state. It took about 10 seconds of serious deliberation to answer that question!

Plans for the trip were interrupted by a thunderstorm - not only NOT a good time to be up on a mountain top, but also not a good time to go exploring on primitive roads. A sunny day followed, so cameras and lunch loaded up, my guide, Grant, and I took off for Logomarsino Canyon. (Steve unfortunately had been committed to another activity that day.)

Grant had warned us the road was narrow and rough, and it wasn't an exaggeration. Heading out to the suburbs of Virginia City we followed an organized pile of rocks that passes fairly well for a road, wandered through the canyons, and admired the scenery along the way.

One striking feature of the landscape is the number of rock walls - remnants of the early sheep ranching era. Miles and miles of wall run up and over the rolling foothills. Some of the stones used to build these walls are amazingly large, and one has to wonder at the technique and pure brute strength needed to construct them.

There are no sheep to speak of now, but there are herds of wild horses everywhere. Presumably they've either learned to jump the low walls or have knocked paths through them, as the horses seem to go pretty much where they please. There are also springs and a free flowing creek available, so water is easily available for the wildlife.
Wild horses rest near one of the stone walls

Though the drive from Virginia City is only a few miles, it takes about an hour and a half. A high clearance vehicle with 4WD and low range is recommended. Some of the springs make lovely mud holes and getting stuck wouldn't add to the enjoyment of one's trip. Grant's previous trips to the area had him well prepared and thanks to his driving skills we didn't have any difficulties.

The entrance to the site is protected by a locked steel gate, but it's only a few yards from the parking area to the first of the glyphs. Looking up from the trail at the bottom of the slope for the first time can only elicit a "Wow!", or something similar.

Note the crack in this boulder.
 The area is packed with petroglyphs, over 2,000 panels, and obviously of varying ages. The range of symbols, the varying styles, and the size of the area involved are all very impressive.

We hiked around for about three hours, trying to avoid stepping on any of the glyphs, but anxious to gather all the photos we could. (We took over 400 between the two of us.) Many of the motifs clearly relate to hunting and fishing, others feature humans, water symbols, and others could be maps of some kind. It is fun to try to interpret them, even though putting yourself in the mindset of someone hundreds of years ago is not really possible. The area was undoubtedly different then too. We know from geologic records this area was much wetter then, and what is a creek now may very well have been a river then.

Many of the boulders at the bottom of the slope have been abraded by the horses tromping on them, others are fractured and the weight of a horse may eventually complete the process of breaking the rock. The droppings in the area indicate it's horses doing this, not cows, but keeping them out might be difficult as the whole wild horse issue has become a real point of contention in the state. It's become quite emotional, and much of the problem comes from the use of the term "mustang". These horses should more properly be called "feral horses", as they do not have the bloodline of the historic Spanish Mustang.

It's obvious because of missing pieces in designs that many boulders have broken off and fallen to their current location, leaving us to wonder at their original placement, as well as what's under those other boulders? And where did the boulder fall from? Location is important in interpreting the meaning, and hard to do once it has been relocated.

Three hours in the sun at 5,000 feet will work up a good appetite, so we found a shaded spot by the creek on the way out and munched while we watched birds flutter around and a chubby marmot give us the evil eye. I don't think he likes trespassers on his nice little green creek.

If planning a trip to the site: There's plenty of parking at the site, but no restrooms or drinking water so be prepared. A couple of interpretive signs provide specific facts about the glyphs, which enriches the visit. A recent survey identified over 2,000 panels at the site - enough to keep us rock art lovers busy for quite some time so do have your camera battery charged!

There's an extensive report on how the most recent survey was done and a nice summary of their findings on the  Nevada Rock Art Foundation website.
The report also delves into the importance of the first survey done on the site, in research done by Heizer and Baumhoff  in the 1950's.

There research at this site was responsible for the development of their theories of rock art interpretation related to hunting activities and hunting magic. The report also delves into other interpretations, and is definitely worth reading.
Vandalism - someone attempted to cut out this petroglyph

The Nevada Rock Art Foundation conducts field trips throughout the year to various rock art sites and encourages their preservation. For information about upcoming tours check their site or contact them at

For a few more select photos of the site visit the album.

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