Petroglyph Point, Lava Beds National Monument
Photo © Lorissa Soriano
One reason Lava Beds National Monument is such a special place to contemplate cultural history is that it contains two types of rock art, or rock imagery— carved petroglyphs and painted pictographs. All of the Monument’s rock imagery is located in the traditional territory of the Modoc people and their ancestors or predecessors.
It is hard to determine the age of rock art. This is especially true of petroglyphs, since material was removed in their creation, not added. It is possible that some of these images at Lava Beds National Monument were made more that 6,000 years ago. Estimating the age of an individual petroglyph based on weathering is complicated by the number of times it may have been inundated in water as Tule Lake rose and fell around the island that later became known as Petroglyph Point. Interestingly, some of the geometric patterns found in the rock imagery here appear on household items up to 5,000 years old from nearby Nightfire Island. Could some of the same people have carved those same patterns into the rocks at Petroglyph Point? With over 5,000 individual carvings, this site is one of the most extensive representations of American Indian rock art in California—it is possible that dozens or even hundreds of generations of artists paddled out in canoes, sharp sticks or stones in hand, to leave their mark here in the soft volcanic tuff. As you walk along the base of the cliff, a trail brochure will guide you past petroglyphs and through stories of Petroglyph Point and the native peoples who have gone before and continue today.
Most of the pictographs at Lava Beds National Monument are found around cave entrances. They are painted in black, produced from a charcoal base mixed with animal fat, and white, made with a clay base. Occasionally red was used, likely made from substances obtained through trade with Paiute Indians to the east. Since scientific dating techniques are possible with the carbon-based materials in some pigments, some pictographs at Lava Beds National Monument have been dated to 1,500 years ago. However, since Lava Beds remains a sacred landscape for people of Modoc-Klamath descent, it is possible that other images are relatively recent.
As with petroglyphs, guessing the age of an individual image by its condition can be deceiving. Images exposed to direct sun, wind, and rain fade much faster than those in more sheltered areas. Excellent examples of pictographs can be seen at Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave on boulders along the trail and walls around the entrances. Perhaps you can imagine generations of artists making their way out to caves such as these with paint supplies and an idea in mind. If you look closely, most lines on such pictographs seem to be about the width of a human finger—literally applied by hand.
You can reach the Lava Beds National Monument by taking Hill Road from Stateline Road (Hwy 161). Travel south east on Hill Road past the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, until you see a sign advising you are entering the Lava Beds National Monument.
Petroglyph Point is located on the eastern edge at Tule Lake.
Hours Open: Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Fall, Winter, Spring: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Seasons Open: The Monument is open year-found. Please check weather conditions before your visit.
Visitor Fees: $10 per vehicle and $5 per motorcycle to enter the Monument.
The area has rough terrain, and is not ADA accessible although the Visitors Center in the Monument and several trails are accessible. Please check the park website for more details.
The rocky terrain, thorny plants, snakes, and high temperatures at Lava Beds can harm your pet. Predators, including mountain lions, are curious about dogs and may approach your party when they otherwise may have passed you by. Dogs can also have negative impacts on the park resources and wildlife. If you do decide to bring your dog, please observe the following:
• Pets must be kept on a six foot leash or in a vehicle or crate at all times. Leaving your pet in a closed vehicle in summer can be deadly!
• You may bring your pet along in developed areas, but not on trails, in caves, or into buildings.
• Pet waste must be immediately collected and disposed of in a trash can.