Episode 22-Yin Yang Desert Rock Art

There is rock art, and then there’s rock art. I would never have known there were so many forms of rock art without my travels these past two years, and I’ve been blessed to come across many. Robert and I shared our latest find in this video.

I found my first rock art two years ago while walking Nonni (9/4/05-10/21/17) and Bentley (10/2/02-3/30/17) through the sand dunes and back roads near the Hot Springs of Holtville, California. I treasure this photo. I miss my furbabies and wish I had a do-over.

Photo of Nonni & Bentley
Bentley and Nonni. Photo taken January 11, 2016. Holtville, California.

So what are the different forms of rock art? Well, that’s my term so I might already be leading you astray, but the way I see it, there is the desert rock art shown in our video above and in that pic with Nonni and Bentley. We’ve also seen desert rock art that is functional, as in the labyrinth that was built years ago near the RTR location in Quartzsite, Arizona.

That was a fun video to make. Thank you again to my dear friend, Shannone for helping demonstrate the use and history of a labyrinth, and to Robert, the man behind the camera, turned business partner, friend extraordinaire. Hard to believe that was a year ago, filmed 1/15/17.

Of course, the original works of rock art are national treasures. Or at least they should be. I am floored, appalled actually, at the number of ancient petroglyphs, grinding holes, caves and the like that are left unprotected.

12/17/17 Video: 4th Day 2017 Rice Ranch Meetup! Ancient Indian Petroglyphs & Touring the RTR Location

1/21/16 Blog Post: A Death Match to the Petroglyphs

12/30/16 Video: We Found Ancient Indian Petroglyphs. Grinding Holes and a CAVE!

It seems we can’t get away from the desire to create art with rocks. These days there are rock-painting groups, hide-and-seek movements, and even scavenger hunts for painted stones.

Photo of Painted Stones and Shells
Painted Stones and Shells

And lastly, there are cairns. There may be a million other forms of rock art, but these four discussed in this article (desert rock art, petroglyphs, painted stones and cairns) are the main ones I am aware of.

The formation of cairns has a long history going back thousands of years all over the world. Traditionally, they have been used to mark trails.

Photo of Cairns on Appalachian Trail in Maine
White Blaze Trail Markers, Appalachian Trail in Maine

Increasingly, people love to build cairns. I know of some that build them as memorials, as a symbol of unity, and even a tribute to mother nature. The intention, a personal or spiritual statement, is well intended, and it is also a practice steeped in controversy. I get it – all sides – the pros and the cons. I love building them myself, and have learned to put myself in check on it, especially on land where people are hiking, doing walk throughs or trail riding.

The following is the best article I could find to explain why it is a growing concern.

Who Should Build Rock Cairns

Generally, rock cairns along trails and in the backcountry should only be made by park rangers, trail maintenance volunteers, or trail creators. Unless you are one of these people, you should avoid building rock cairns for fun in places where they could be confused as trail markers. Doing so could send hikers in the wrong direction by misrepresenting the trail.

Leave No Trace principles aren’t just about trash. Leave No Trace means leave no sign that you traveled through the area. That’s zero impact. When you move rocks to create decorative cairns you are altering nature for the next visitor and leaving a reminder that you were there.

Another opinion, shared in High Country News is a little more emphatic.

We hike, we mountain bike, we run, we backpack, we boat in wilderness areas to retreat from civilization. We need undeveloped places to find quiet in our lives. A stack of rocks left by someone who preceded us on the trail does nothing more than remind us that other people were there before us. It is an unnecessary marker of humanity, like leaving graffiti –– no different than finding a tissue bleached and decaying against the earth that a previous traveler didn’t pack out, or a forgotten water bottle.  Pointless cairns are simply pointless reminders of the human ego.

I get the points they are trying to make, and I am not even going to get in to the legalities of it all. That is far beyond the scope of this artice. I’ll simply close with, that for me, I will resist the urge from now on to build cairns in remote areas, AND the call to create rock art has not left my system .

SO ….

I hope to find areas in my travels where it is completely appropriate to build a cairn, or two, or three. I wish I had the talent to create something like a labyrinth, or a yin yang symbol, or even a peace heart like our friend Heidi recently did for her birthday. In the meantime, I may have to settle for a few small bottles of paint and a few tiny brushes. Those should fit in my van. Now to find somewhere where I can do that, any of this, and keep with my stoutest belief of, “Leave No Trace.”

It’s a conundrum. What if the ancient ones had subscribed to that doctrine? We would not be blessed with the ability to see their history and creativity today. In this day and age, we have many mediums and outlets to be creative and record history. And, there’s nothing quite like rock art. Like I said, it’s a conundrum.

All I know is that rock art is beautiful. And it calls to us humans. Some more than others.

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