China Lake Petroglyphs

The Coso Rock Art National Historic Landmark extends over tens of thousands of mostly off-limits acreage with an estimated tens of thousands of hand-hewn images. During a day of awe, we absorb the sight of some of these designs abraded, pecked or scratched thousands of years ago into the basalt rocks' "desert varnish" surface.

Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons are two principal landforms within which are found major accumulations of Paleo-Indian and/or Native American Petroglyphs, or rock art, by the Coso People located in the Coso Range Mountains of the northern Mojave Desert, and now within the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, near the towns of China Lake and Ridgecrest, California. Little Petroglyph Canyon contains 20,000 documented images, which surpasses in number for most other collections. Additionally, the archeological resources are remarkably undisturbed.

The Coso Petroglyphs have been subject to various interpretations as to their meaning and function. One perspective argues that the drawings are metaphoric images correlated with individual shamanic vision quests. Alternatively it has been argued that they are part of a hunting religion that included increase rites and were associated with a sheep cult ceremonial complex. However these alternative explanations might be somewhat complementary in that the medicine persons could have been the artisans but their messages might have often been associated with religious observances centering on the veneration of bighorn sheep.

In addition to the extant petroglyph rock art, the Coso People carried out extensive working of obsidian tools and other 'manufacturing.' There is considerable archaeological evidence substantiating trade of these products between the Coso People and other Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Native American tribes.

For example, distant trade with the southern Californian Pacific coast Chumash People is confirmed by archaeological recovery from California sites in San Luis Obispo County, California and other coastal indigenous peoples' sites.

Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons are situated on property of the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. The two canyons are a designated U.S. National Historic Landmark. In 2001, they were incorporated into a larger National Historic Landmark District, called the Coso Rock Art District.

Petroglyphs adorn many center medians within the city of Ridgecrest and on many buildings throughout the area. Ridgecrest also produces the Ridgecrest Petroglyph Festival on the first weekend of November annually in celebration of Native American History Month.