In the Lava Beds National Monument sits a wall of stone with petroglyphs that are dated as far back as 6,000 years old. The Petroglyph Point rock wall near the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern corner of Northern California sits as an ancient history book of NorCal.
Petroglyph Point is an easy hike in the Lava Beds National Monument, a little under a mile, and can give you some great insight into the ancient history of NorCal. This very short trail begins on the east side of the Petroglyph Point just beyond the bulletin board on the dirt road. The trailhead parking lot is on top of a short rise across from the trail entrance. Hike to the top to enjoy an impressive view of the basin and the Medicine Lake volcano.
Petroglyph Point was once an ancient island on Tule Lake, which is historically home to the Modoc Tribe. The site contains one of the largest panels of Native American art in the United States. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
What’s interesting about the large wall of ancient art is that it contains both carved petroglyphs and painted pictographs. All of the art is located in the traditional territory of the Modoc Tribe and their ancestors.
Aging the art at Petroglyph Point is difficult for many reasons. For one, the historic rising and falling of water levels of Tule Lake when the site was an island gives researchers difficulty finding where to date the rock. Also, with petroglyphs, rock is removed from the wall, meaning it can be difficult to determine how much rock was removed for the art and how much was removed due to natural causes.
That being said, the site is estimated to be between 2,000-6,000 years old.
The art on the wall is mostly of geometric patterns instead of depictions of people and animals, which is more prevalent during this time in history. With over 5,000 individual carvings, the site is home to most extensive representations of Native American art in the country. It’s possible that hundreds of generations of the Modoc tribe are represented on the wall.
With the painted pictographs, the paint was mixed with a charcoal base mixed with animal fat, and white, made with a clay base. Most of the pictographs appear on cave entrances. The paint was mixed in these prevalent mortars throughout the area:
It’s still unclear what the paintings and petroglyph carvings mean. After the fracturing of the Modoc Tribe during the Modoc War, it’s believed that much of the history of the tribe was lost or kept secret. Many people believe the Petroglyph Point is the center of the Modoc creation story, a story that goes back as long as 6,000 years.
Either way, the art of the wall of Petroglyph Point give us a modern day depiction of the ancient inhabitants of Northern California. Very cool!
From the I-5 corridor, take U.S. 97 north at Weed to a right turn on California Hwy. 161, also known as Stateline Road, as shown by large signs. Travel east on CA 161 through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to Hill Road. Turn right on Hill Road at the Westside Market, following monument signs. Travel south on Hill Road 10 miles until you enter Lava Beds National Monument.