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Pahranagat Man | Third Time #2

Our exit from Big Rocks Wilderness after lunch on Thursday gave us only a few hours in the afternoon -- and a couple hours the following morning - before heading to Las Vegas for our $27 flights home on Spirit Airlines.

How Spirit can provide flights for so little money is beyond me, but it has made the decision to leave the Tacoma in Las Vegas even easier - for the cost of a single tank of gas, both of us can fly roundtrip, saving 40 hours of travel time in the process - on the ends of a trip. And, so far, none of the planes have crashed. So far.

Our plan for these last few hours - to revisit several of the rock art sites in the Pahranagat Valley that we'd discovered before I lost all the photos on my memory card earlier in the year - was reasonably straight forward, and soon we were off the highway, heading toward what we consider to be the best camp site in the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge.

The view on this fall day wasn't anything to scoff at.

We were sure we were going to just pull in as we normally do - even as we noticed signs reading "no RV sites available" and "campground full" - given that it wasn't even a weekend, and this place is never crowded.

Today however, was apparently "never." The 15-site campground was filled to the brim - with all manner of tents, trailers, vans, and RVs - reversing the decision we'd made to camp closer to the trailhead but also closer to the highway, instead of occupying a more much quieter dispersed spot in Black Canyon that would require a bit of driving to reach our hiking off point.

Still, we were here, now, and despite a bit of concern about the lighting conditions, we decided it was worthwhile parking at the trailhead and taking a short hike to check out a few of the petroglyphs that were - hopefully - easier to see at this time of day since they wouldn't be in direct sun.

Fall colors as we set out on the trail.

F.L. Kelsay, Aug 19, 1899.
We'd missed this signature on our previous visit, so were excited to stumble on it this time around.

Having marked the location of every panel we'd found earlier in the summer, our hike this time was significantly less "wandery" than our previous excursion. Panels covered the hillside, and it was a simple matter of scrambling over, around, and through the jumble of volcanic boulders to find them. It was a lot of fun, though didn't bring with it the excitement of first discovery.

Archaeologists have only been able to paint the Desert Archaic culture that lived here with a very broad brush - dating, deciphering and understanding the meaning of the rock art found here has been elusive at best. The rock art found here ranges in age from the Early Archaic cultures that created mostly abstract rock art (shapes, lines, dots, and circles) with a bit of representational art (“ghost-like” body forms, headdresses, and animals) between 5500 BC to AD 1, to the more contemporary Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) and Fremont cultures that leaned much more heavily on representational rock art (a variety of human forms, birds, spirals, bighorn sheep, deer, and elk), between AD 1 to AD 1275.

Uncertain in its age and cultural affiliations is the Pahranagat anthropomorph style, which is only found in the Pahranagat Valley. Traditionally, the style is dated to the late-Middle and early-Late Archaic periods based on associated archaeological remains and the fact that some figures wield atlatls. This style comprises two distinct types of anthropomorphs - Pahranagat Patterned Body Anthropomorph and the Pahranagat Man.Ken's Photo Gallery

In addition to the rock art, several stone foundations - on top of a volcanic rise - mark what we suspect was once a habitation site.

The Pahranagat Patterned Body Anthropomorph (PBA)

The Pahranagat PBA has many variations but is always represented as a headless rectangular form that is internally decorated with a variety of grids, dots, or geometric motifs. One of the most interesting things about the Pahranagat PBAs is their interior design. In fact, of the 227 known PBAs on sites in the area, only six have no interior markings.Ken's Photo Gallery

Six Pahranagat Patterned Body Anthropomorphs (PBAs) - all of them armed - out for a hunt.

A close up of three of the PBAs.

A Pahranagat Patterned Body Anthropomorph with a vertically striped body pattern.

Another PBA; note the negative space of the facial features.

With the camera on a tripod, we had to do a bit of "shadow casting" to capture this guy in the shade.

Dotted-body PBA.

The Pahranagat Man (P-Man)

Easily recognizable, Pahranagat Man has a solid-pecked ovoid or rectangular body, large eyes (sometimes indicated by using negative space), and a line protruding from its head. Its arms may be straight, angled or down-turned with long digitate fingers. Much fewer in number, these striking figures almost seem somewhat haunting. Could they have been used to represent a shaman or have some other religious significance?

Ken's Photo Gallery

A haunting Pahranagat Man watching over passers by.

This P-man couldn't stay still, multiple exposures capturing his arm movements as his "photo" was taken.

I was a little surprised how intermixed the Pahranagat Man and PBA glyphs were on the panels, but this side-by-side comparison shows the two styles nicely.

This was one of the clearer Pahranagat Man glyphs, etched in a prime location - visible to anyone, yet seen by few.

Of course, anthropomorphs were not the only art we found sprinkled across the sun-varnished surfaces. Many panels contained zoomorphs or abstract shapes, several of which were quite striking.

I really liked the clean, clear dot pattern of this glyph.

Lots of dotted figures. I especially like the dotted bighorn sheep.
(right figure on the second panel up)

Unfortunately, several of the glyphs had been mistaken for wildlife. Or someone is just an asshole and decided to discharge their shotgun at cultural art.

Our exploration for the afternoon complete, it was still reasonably early but a good time to head to camp. After a few days on the road, we had some organizing and cleaning of the Tacoma to do before dropping it off in Las Vegas, and after climbing around on the hot rocks, neither of us was going to complain about a bit of a washcloth bath, either.

We spotted this large - nearly three inches long - strikingly green grasshopper doing a poor job blending in.

A few miles from the highway, we pulled into a secluded, quiet camp we've used before.

While I ran around being useless, @mrs.turbodb started organizing what we were leaving behind.

After washing up - before the sun dropped below the horizon and temperatures really started to fall - and getting the tent setup, bedding shaken out, and all of our bags and boxes sorted in the cab, it was time for our final dinner of the trip. Having brought more than we needed, and with no room - or cold storage - to shuttle it home, it was a feast of tacorittoes and guacamole, our stomachs aching by the time we'd swallowed the last bite.

It was dinner and a show, courtesy of the Nevada sky.

The following morning...

Given the position of the sun in the sky, we'd known that several of the petroglyph sites we wanted to check out would have been difficult to see - and nearly impossible to photograph - as we'd wandered around in the Black Canyon the previous afternoon. We also knew that with the sun being so far south in the sky at this time of year, we wouldn't have much time in the morning before a mixture of shade-and-sun would throw a wrench into our ability to capture them early on in the day as well.

So, on our last morning, we were up well before sunrise. Perhaps a little too well, we'd discover after putting away camp, eating a quick breakfast, and driving to the trailhead for our last hike of the trip.

Still reasonably dark, we were making our way along the trail when I spotted a horny toad in my peripheral vision. Relieved that it hadn't moved as I'd walked by, I reaching for my tripod - it was still much to dark to handhold a photo - while whispering loudly to @mrs.turbodb to "move slowly," so as to not scare it.

After all that, you can imagine my relief when I was able to get everything setup and a couple good shots without the slightest movement from this rare, nearly black specimen.

Waiting for the warming sun.

If I don't move, they won't see me.

As I was taking the second photo, I realized the joke was on us. "What a dope!" I exclaimed, as I looked over at my companion with a sheepish grin. The horny toad was a bronze casting, indistinguishable from the real thing - save for the color - when you're up just a little too well before sunrise.

We got a good chuckle out of that one, each of us poking fun - perhaps more than once - at the other's age and eyesight.

And with that, we set off in search of something a little more real.

A very crisp set of abstract dots.

This Pahranagat Patterned Body Anthropomorph was nearly four feet tall.

A prickly intermission, I'd photographed this same cactus in June when it was in full bloom.

Fi-fi-fo-fum... this Pahranagat Man was a giant, just look how he dwarfs the fully grown bighorn sheep.

The final panel we saw was one of my favorites. A dark patina with crisp etchings, it captured all we'd seen in the area - a couple PBAs with dotted shields and atlatls, a P-Man with creepy fingers, and a bighorn sheep.

Deuling rectangles.

We'd completed our loop through the canyon only a few minutes before the sun reached our position high up on the circular ridge. Perhaps our timing - though momentarily embarrassing when we set out on this little trek - was better than we thought, or at least that's what we wanted to believe.

The morning had developed into a colorful celebration.

Making our way back to the Tacoma, we'd finally done it. It'd taken three attempts, but we'd finally found (and photographed) the rock art we'd been looking for. The Curse of the Pahranagat had been tamed. The third time really was the charm.



The Whole Story

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The 2023 Pahranagat Trail Series


  1. Tom Zinn
    Tom Zinn December 21, 2023

    Nice finds! I stumbled across some similar petrogylphs in the Mojave years ago and just stumbled across the photos a couple weeks ago.

    As for Spirit airlines, just do a google search for "spirit airlines fight" and a copious amount of videos will turn up. Frontier is another airline with a similar reputation for insanity in the air.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 21, 2023

      Interesting! Do any of those photos have P-Man style anthropomorphs in them? My understanding is that they are only found int he Pahranagat Valley area. Of course, the square-bodied anthropomorphs, and those carrying atlatls are more broadly spread...

      • T o m
        T o m December 21, 2023

        I'm not sure but I'll check out the photos again and see what I find.

  2. J C
    J C December 21, 2023

    This Pahraganat man reminds me of the “Da Vinci” man in Arizona near Utah.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 21, 2023

      Nice! I'd not heard of the Da Vinci man in Arizona, but I'm definitely going to research it, so I can (hopefully) find it and check it out in the future! 👍

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