Painted Rock Petroglyphs – Signs of the Ancient Ones

Gila Bend, Arizona.

About 20 minutes south and west of the small town of Gila Bend is a petroglyph site and campground. The outcropping of rocks on a small hill must have been an attractive location for the ancient ones to “commit graffiti.” The campground in the desert is near one of the largest collection of Hohokam petroglyphs in the region. Over 800 images, mostly on the east side of the hill tell a written story of the people of the area.

A pathway with signs describing features of the area provides guidance on what visitors see in the area. The site, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, is some 90 miles or so southwest of the Phoenix metro. Campers will find basic amenities like picnic tables, grills, fire rings and a vault toilet. Bring your own water, however, as there is no water source nearby. A short walk from the campground will find you on a paved trail with plenty of informative signage. Several historic trails are nearby. The most familiar to me is the Butterfield Overland Stage Route which meanders through several states on its way west.

This area appears to be the very western edge of the territory where the Hohokam lived and farmed.  Typical examples of the work of the ancient ones is visible from rocks that are quite close to the edge of a pathway that surrounds the mound. In addition, Juan Bautista de Anza passed this way on an expedition in 1775. One of the founding fathers of Spanish California, he is now also memorialized with a 1210-mile (1,950 km) trail that extends from Nogales, Arizona north and west to San Francisco.  Other visitors to the site that left signs of their presence included the Mormon Battalion, a group of about 500 Mormons who joined the army and marched westward in search of a place to be free from religious persecution. They traveled through the area in the 1840s.

The site is well preserved with little sign of vandalism. Note that I said, “little”. There’s always someone who wishes to deface ancient artifacts for their own amusement. I applaud the BLM for making the site so accessible and easy to view. We’ve visited other petroglyph sites that have been wrapped with high chain-link fences topped with razor wire. I submit for your approval a gallery of images captured during our visit to the site. In most browsers you can click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner


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