My eyes are usually on contemporary art in the Phoenix area, but any kind of art appreciation should pay tribute to art’s humble beginnings, and in our case, we are fortunate to have the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve, home to more than 1,500 petroglyphs that date as far back as 500 A.D., or maybe even before that.
Rock art — simple surfaces, simple materials and not-so-simple messages — is in its glory on the Hedgpeth Hills in northwest Phoenix, and Arizona State University and various patrons have seen to it that the petroglyphs are preserved and open to view. The term “petroglyph” refers to markings that have been scraped or carved into rock, rather than painted onto rock , as pictograms are. Animal-like designs predominate on the black basalt boulders at the preserve, but also visible are hand prints, tracks, human-like figures, spirals and other geometric designs.
The indoor exhibition space leading to the petroglyph path sheds light on the cultural importance of rock art for Native Americans today, as well as the area’s archaeological significance for us all.Nearly all tribes in the Southwest trace their ancestry to the Archaic, Hohokam and Patayan peoples, and the life ways of ancient peoples are documented on these rocks.
As Ricardo Leonard, a councilman with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, reverently states on one of the wall plaques: “The petroglyphs show the paths of the stars at that time, and the history of our planet is there, and the history of our people is there.”
The exact meanings of the rock art symbols and the reasons behind their placement will remain open to interpretation but, of course, not all mysteries need to be solved.
Speaking of mysteries: Why I chose to walk the one-quarter mile path alongside the petroglyphs at high noon when the thermometer had surged past 100 is beyond me. The Heritage Garden looked interesting, but was struggling as all gardens do this time of year. The desert critters, wisely, were sleeping, which gave the path an eerie quality. I didn’t have my zoom lens to capture the petroglyphs high up on the hill, and I struggled to adjust for Master Sun. Still, I hope the slide show below gives a glimpse of the site and encourages you to check it out sometime. Like at 8 a.m., right when it opens.