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Before | Before and After #1

Our Spirit Airlines flight touched down in Las Vegas at 11:32pm on Tuesday night. We'd chosen to take a late flight so we'd be able to drive the 10 hours from Las Vegas to the beginning of the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route (AZBDR) at the Mexico border over the course of the following day, but that was when we assumed that we'd be picking up the Tacoma just before midnight.

"Welcome to Las Vegas folks, this is your captain speaking. Looks like they don't have a gate ready for us, so until they can push back another plane, we're going to be parked here on the tarmack. Shouldn't be more than 35 or 40 minutes. I'm going to turn off the seatbelt sign, and you're welcome to use the bathrooms if you need to."

Apparently, sometimes, you get what you pay for.

Picking up the Tacoma a little later than we planned, @mrs.turbodb "napped" - if it's even called a nap at 1:00am in the morning - as we ticked off a two-hour drive to a spot just south of Needles that I'd discovered while running the East Mojave Heritage Trail. Just far enough from the highway to mask the noise of passing traffic, we deployed the tent and called it a night.

Where we woke up.

After a slightly longer nap - since I don't think four hours qualifies as a real sleep - we awoke to a warm sunny morning and dragged ourselves down the ladder as we muttered about late night flights into Vegas. Turns out we don't appreciate them any more than driving all day - and got under way.

Our first destination - an hour further south - was outside the town of Blythe. There, we hoped to find some of the largest rock art we've ever visited: the Blythe Intaglios.

As we pulled into the parking area, the surroundings were nothing to scoff at.

The Blythe Intaglios (geoglyphs) are comprised of six distinct figures - two humans, two animals, and a spiral. The largest human figure measures 171 feet from head to toe. Between 450 and 2,000 years old, the Mohave and Quechans - natives to the lower Colorado River area - propose that the human figures represent Mastamho, the Creator of all life. The animal figures represent Hatakulya, one of two mountain lions/persons who helped in the Creation. In ancient times, sacred ceremonial dances were held in the area to honor the creation.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The first three figures were reasonably close to the road despite nearly nodding off several times due to lack of sleep, were reasonably easy to find by looking for the fencing that surrounds each one. I suppose this fencing is good in order to keep rowdy UTV drivers off of the art, but talk about drawing attention to something that might otherwise be quite difficult to discover!

Difficult to see from the ground, this was the perfect opportunity for me to launch my flying camera and demonstrate my "skilled" aerial acrobatics as I struggled to find a position that would properly frame these ancient works of art.

Oh look, there's a fire burning across the river in Arizona!

Hatakulya, the mountain lion, and a spiral.

Some idiot peeled out on Mastamho before they erected the fence. And look, there we are for scale.

After photographing the first set of geoglyphs, I realized that the drone could do all the "walking" for us in finding the second and third sites, and so - clumsily - I flew it in what I hoped was the right direction, the camera pointed down so I could spot the massive figures.

The second site was reasonably easy to find, but only because it wasn't very far away and I could see the fence from where we'd parked.

While Geoglyphs are found throughout the world, the Colorado Desert contains the only known desert intaglios in North America. And, despite their size, it wasn't until 1932, when George Palmer - a pilot flying between Las Vegas, Nevada and Blythe, California - "discovered" the intaglios as he was preparing to land.

While construction methods differ depending on location - ranging from earthen mounds, piles of stone, or the removal of surface plants or soil - those near Blythe were created by scraping away layers of darker rocks and pebbles in order to reveal the lighter-valued soil underneath. The displaced rocks outlined the figures and the exposed soil was stamped down which makes it more difficult for plants to grow in the lines.


For years, @mrs.turbodb and I have joked that the Tacoma is our American Hiking Machine, allowing us to sit back - even if it's sometimes a bit bumpy - while 99% of the work of getting somewhere is taken care of by the skinny pedal. I can safely say that the drone is an even more efficient vessel, enabling us to enjoy our 92oz. sugary sodas and 6lbs. "small" fries that accompany Triple-Double-Animal-Style burgers with even less work. No longer do we need to engage in American Hiking - because seriously, American's don't hike anymore - rather, we can just soak in the sights using the screen on the remote control!

I digress.

The last site required a combination of reasonably skilled flying - and by skilled, I mean "flying in the correct direction," so I was hopeless. Twice, I completely lost track of where I was relative to the other Intaglios and even our parking area, and had to bring the drone back so I could reorient myself.

Oh, what I would give to be in the generation that understands how to work a gimbal and the aircraft to which it is mounted at the same time. Frankly, it's amazing that I can both hike along a trail and move my head to view my surroundings without falling.

I finally found the last Mastamho after way too many minutes.

Nearby, it looked as though the fences really were necessary. Why are people so stupid?

From the Blythe Intaglios, it was time to turn east. It was here - rather than at the start of the AZBDR, since there's no "Welcome to Arizona" sign at the location where we'd reach the border with Mexico - where we crossed into Arizona. And then we were headed to an interesting point I'd found - of all places - on Google: a fossilized Indian Footprint!

I'm not sure that traffic loved my maneuver here, but it seemed safe enough to me.

Looks like we're in the right place - our first Saguaro!

The Indian footprint was a little strange. Just off a power line road, and at the bottom of a wash that led to private land and an old mine, a little footpath left the two-track, and we followed it for fifty feet or so. Sure enough, there in what looked like marble, a clear impression of a foot. Super cool!

How does this even happen?

Nearby, the current resident - a California whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris ssp. mundus) - lazily watched us from his semi-sunny perch.

Leathery scales.

Hey guys, whatcha doin?

With nothing else to see, we spent more time trying to grab a photo of the lizard - which I clearly failed at, since I never got the head and body in focus at the same time - than we did the footprint, and it was only a few minutes after 11:00am when we climbed back into the air conditioned cab of the Tacoma and headed back toward the highway, though we weren't getting back on it quite yet.

Crossing the highway and continuing for another few miles, we soon found ourselves a few miles from Quartzite and at our final stop before our big push south - the Quartzite Arrow. Unlike the Intaglios, which were created by clearing rocks and creating a negative space on the desert floor, the Quartzite arrow was created by arranging rocks to create a labeled arrow pointing north, and a 100-foot long "QUARTZITE" label, with an arrow pointing southwest.

Crisp edges.

From above.

I should have stood in the large circle to give a sense of scale. This entire glyph is about 100-feet long.

While no longer used, this "rock art" was originally created for early airmail and airline pilots, pointing to an airfield that was named after and located in Quartzsite, just SE of the current I-10 and US-95 intersection. Listed in the 1931 Commerce Department publication "Descriptions of Airports and Landing Fields" as "Quartzsite Field, Auxiliary," it had two landing strips - one 2100-feet long and the other 1600-feet long - in a T shape. By 1938 the airfield was no longer displayed on maps, and only Conner Field (SW of same intersection and later renamed to Quartzite Field in 1947) is shown sectionals.

Not far from the arrow, a final Intaglio - or at least, the final one we knew about - which depicts a fisherman with his spear pointed towards fish in the water, was hidden just off the road. This geoglyph may tell the mythological story of a God, Kumastamo, who thrust a spear into the ground to make the mighty Colorado River flow.

Once again utilizing our why-hike-when-you-can-watch device, I popped over for a quick look.

I'm not sure this is actually a fisherman, but people have created fish around it on the desert, which is, I presume, how it's gotten its name.

And with that, we still had a lot of ground to cover, and it was time to get on the road in search of lunch!




The Whole Story



Why Before and After? Because this trip covers the time on either end of our adventure on the
Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route
Check it out!


Filed Under

California(49 entries)
Muddy Mountains(3 entries)
Nevada(11 entries)
Utah(17 entries)



  1. Gussie
    Gussie May 23, 2024

    Oh, man, thanks for these great aerials of the Intaglios! I've visited them a few times, and I've seen aerial photos online via Google Maps, but your photos (as usual) really resonate.
    Incidentally, a lesser known fact that you and your savvy readers probably already know: when pronouncing "intaglio", the 'g' is silent. That's the only thing I remember from Art History class ; )
    Thanks, and keep 'em coming!

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 23, 2024

      Glad you enjoyed the photos! Turned out to be a perfect place to have the drone in order to get a bit more "understandable" perspective! As for the pronunciation - my readers probably did know that, but I'm rarely classified as savvy 😉, so thanks for the info!

      I'll keep 'em coming, and please do enjoy them! 👍

  2. T o m
    T o m May 24, 2024

    Very cool images of those figures...I remember seeing the Nazca lines when I was a little kid and how amazing they seemed. Without the internet, people used to get pretty creative.

    We are headed south from Boise in a few hours for the next week or so. Looking forward to the list of old mines, hot springs, arrow beacons and burgers at Middlegate Station. I'll be running the 2M with APRS which should provide occasional breadcrumbs.

    (APRS link redacted for Tom's privacy)

    • turbodb
      turbodb May 24, 2024

      Have fun out there on your trip Tom - sounds like you've got quite the list of highlights lined up and I bet the high desert will be beautiful this time of year - green grass and flowers everywhere!

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