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Coso Rock Art | protection / u.s. navy's china lake / petroglyph national monument
protectionU.S. navy's china lake

With Navy jets soaring overhead and armed guards on patrol, security measures at Coso give pause to those who would loot or deface these invaluable petroglyphs. Unfortunately, other land management agencies have neither the resources nor the staff power to provide such security, especially for widespread, backcountry sites. Yet, it is the mission of many of these agencies—including National Park Service—to provide public access to cultural resources.

Petroglyphs and pictographs are part of our nation's cultural heritage that cannot be removed to a museum or gallery. Viewing these images where they were first created allows the viewer to appreciate them in the best possible context. At the same time, it puts them at greater risk for vandalism—the single most destructive force facing these irreplaceable images.

Spray-painting graffiti, carving initials, and removal for collection or sale robs everyone of an invaluable part of our country's rich cultural heritage. Moreover, each of these acts is punishable by law, and some vandals have received both hefty fines and prison sentences for the wanton removal and/or destruction of these images. While we cannot always prevent the deterioration caused by the forces of nature, we can prevent the damage caused by human hands. more >>


(photo) Aerial view of a shooting star pattern on the desert floor.  Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc.


Archeologists working at Coso have found an invaluable partner in the U.S. Navy. During the recent 1990s studies, the Navy provided researchers, expertise, and equipment to help archeologists test their theory that rock art was concentrated in basaltic areas.

Flying in Navy helicopters, Navy geologists helped archeologists trace the granite-basalt frontier. As they worked, archeologists noticed that some petroglyphs were visible from the air, leading them to find numerous new petroglyph panels unnoticed from the ground.

The flights and the expertise helped make the survey process much more efficient, leading to more thorough coverage and revealing entirely new features. One such discovery was the shooting star geoglyph, which had never been recorded until a helicopter overflight.

(photo) Visitors at the lower end of a basaltic canyon.  By TOMOL.


The Navy makes security a top priority, and the result is extraordinary protection for Coso's petroglyphs. But it is also part of the Navy's mission to provide regulated public access to these cultural resources.

To meet the challenge, the Navy has formed a partnership with the local Maturango Museum to train petroglyph interpreters who lead daylong excursions to Little Petroglyph Canyon, one of Coso's most remarkable concentrations of rock art. Here, a group of visitors rest and look for petroglyphs before their return hike back up the canyon.

(photo) Weathered wooden hut at the edge of the steaming hot springs.  By TOMOL.


Local Indians were forcefully removed from the area over a century ago, but many still live nearby. Because the Navy has an obligation to them as traditional users of the area, they periodically make arrangements with local Indians who seek access to the Coso Hot Springs for healing purposes.

Pictured here are the remains of a wooden sweat lodge used by local Paiutes for curing rituals.