Did You Know: Petroglyphs Are Prominent In Arizona

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, November 28, 2014 - 1:49pm
Updated: Friday, November 28, 2014 - 2:05pm

(photo by Arleyn Simon, SHESC, ASU)
A panel of Archaic period petroglyphs with wavy lines and curvilinear forms, at the ASU SHESC Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve.
(photo by Arleyn Simon, SHESC, ASU)
Two Anthropomorphs (suggestive of human figures) in Patayan style (western desert culture - distinguished by emphasized hands and feet), at the ASU SHESC Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve.
(photo by Arleyn Simon, SHESC, ASU)
Hohokam style geometric and animal petroglyphs at City of Phoenix South Mountain Park.
(photo by Arleyn Simon, SHESC, ASU)
Portion of a “pipette” petroglyph that may depict the face of a rain god, influenced by Tlaloc, a Mesoamerican deity, at City of Phoenix South Mountain Park.

Arizona is filled with images of the past. Well, more like carving of the past. And you probably have walked passed them without recognizing them.

Have you ever strolled through South Mountain, A mountain or through a national park in Arizona? These public lands are filled with petroglyphs— images carved on rock surfaces.

Did You Know… Arizona is among one of the best places in the country to see Native American rock art? And the Valley has many locations where you can easily run into them.

“You can see petroglyphs throughout the park on many of the trails," said Arleyn Simon with the ASU Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve. “I think a lot times people just go real fast and don’t pause to look. You’re so busy watching the next step you’re taking. But, yeah, here we go right here.”

Simon walks me to a cluster of rocks near the South Mountain Pima Canyon Entrance parking lot. These were etched by the Hohokam people. Petroglyphs are images pecked on flat rocks and boulders hundreds of years ago. Their meanings are unclear. Archeologists say they may represent interactions with the spirit world or they may be about religion. They may also be telling a story or marking trails and boundaries. Simon said what is clear is the locations of the images are intentional.

“They could keep track of what the farthest north point and the farthest south point that the sun comes up throughout the year and we just have to realize that they were very connected to the landscape as far as they could see," Simon said.

Start off at any trail in the area and you’re likely to see petroglyph images of animals and humans, as well as geometric designs of circles, crosses and spirals.

“I think South Mountain is one of the best locations in the Valley to enjoy the petroglyphs," Simon said.

There are thousands more petroglyphs throughout Arizona, including at Canyon de Chelly and Navajo National Monuments, Petrified Forest National Park and the Deer Valley Petroglyphs Preserve. The styles vary from one area in the state to another, as different groups settled in sections of the state. The challenge sometimes, Simon says, is seeing them clearly.

“They are a little tricky to see depending on the lighting," she said. "The early morning and the late afternoon/evening are probably the best lighting to see them.”

So the next time you’re out hiking, stop a moment and check out the scenery — or the rocks. Simon said there have been times when she brings a group of students to an area to research petroglyphs and has discovered a marking never recorded before.

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