2,500 years before Valley of Fire State Park came into being, the Basketmakers, an ancient American culture migrated across the Nevadan high desert valley to hunt and pray, leaving behind pictographic records of their lives throughout the park’s 42,000 acres.
But Atlatl Rock qualifies as the best preserved and most dynamic petroglyph attracting the greatest number of pedestrians.
Easily reached by climbing eighty-four steps over fragile sandstone,
the symbols etched into the black patina tell an uncertain story, but the symbology clearly features known images–notably an atlatl, which was the “bump stock” of its time. Intended as a spear accessory, the atlatl was a forerunner to the bow and arrow, and used to improve speed and throwing distance when reaching bighorn sheep atop the wildly sculpted cliffs.
In anticipation of Valley of Fire becoming Nevada’s first state park in 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps built The Cabins for motorists and pedestrians passing from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles along the Arrowhead Trail.
While hiking past Fire Canyon Road in anticipation of a glorious sunset, Leah and I were surprised to encounter a herd of bighorn sheep, perhaps the original inhabitants of the area.
We slowly followed at a safe distance as they’d periodically stop and graze across the hillside while heading for higher ground. Always wary and intently watching,
the leader of the pack stood vigilant.
As the sun sank behind the Muddy Mountains,
and yielded to a spectacular moonrise over the Valley of Fire,
the celestial guardians of the park had found a place where no atlatl and spear could harm them.