The walls lining Picture Gorge have many pictographs painted centuries, perhaps even millennia ago by Native Americans. They depict human, animal, and geometric designs.
Pictographs differ from petroglyphs, which is a type of rock art that has been pecked or scraped into rock. Pictographs are painted with pigments made from various minerals. The red pigment is derived from crushed iron oxide, sometimes called red ochre. The pigment was added to an organic binder. Many different organic agents could be used as a binder, such as eggs, blood, fat, or plant juice.
After the paint was made it is then applied by finger. The pigment, when freshly applied, is absorbed by the small pores of the rock, consequently staining the rock. The pictograph then weathers away at the same rate the rock does. Some of the pictographs may be thousands of years old.
Pictographs (and petroglyphs) are protected by law on all federal land. Preservation is vital since they are part of the cultural heritage of many American Indians. Discovery of a pictograph or petroglyph is a special experience and brings up many questions about what their significance is or may have been.
Protection of these precious symbols is important to the National Park Service. Despite having endured hundreds of years of weathering, it would only take minutes for someone to destroy them. Even a gentle touch does permanent damage. Please notify a ranger if you see anyone disturbing these sacred sites.
Did You Know?
Some of the earliest rhino fossils in the world were found in the John Day beds. We call these the "running rhinos".