The Coso Rock Art District on the California/Nevada border contains the largest concentration of unaltered prehistoric petroglyphs in the western hemisphere. The district is located on the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Limited tours are offered by the Maturango Museum; one of the stipulations is that you have to be a US citizen, which is why it's taken me till 2011 to visit.
After security clearances and a spectacular 45 mile drive within the base, we arrived at Little Petroglyph Canyon, just a small sliver of the Coso Rock Art District, but the only section open to the public.
Then followed six hours of hiking, boulder scrambling, awe and wonder. It really felt a privilege to be there.
The petroglyphs were made by chipping, pecking, and scraping away the rocks' patina, exposing the lighter colour underneath. No-one really knows who made them, or when. Some depict tools that can be dated historically: the atlatl (spear thrower) from 3000 years ago, and the bow and arrow from 1500 years ago. The images seem to span many thousands of years; in some cases new petroglyphs partially obscure much older ones.
Some symbols are obvious: bighorn sheep ..
... shamen ...
... hunters ...
... while others remain obscure.
The weather couldn't have been better: warm but not hot, breezy but not windy.
We happily wore ourselves out, then made the long drive back home.
For more petroglyphy goodness, check out the entire flickr set.