With so many RVers going to the big campout in the desert at Quartzsite, Arizona, I thought I’d share a story from the January-February 2007 issue of the Gypsy Journal about an interesting day trip you can take from there.
A few miles north of Blythe, California, off U.S. Highway 95, we discovered a series of mysterious images of humans, animals, and geometric designs scraped into the earth’s surface. Known as the Blythe Intaglios, the figures are believed to be between 450 and 2,000 years old.
The site consists of a group of three large human and animal forms made by scraping the top layer of desert cover away, exposing the lighter layer underneath. The largest figure is an image of a woman, over 170 feet long. There are also images of a snake and a four legged animal. Archaeologists are not sure how old the geoglyphs are, because dating techniques have not been developed to determine the age of such ancient artwork. Some archeologists believe this is a horse, in which case the intaglios would date to after 1540, when the Spanish brought horses to North America. Other scientists think it is a mountain lion, which could date the site to as much as 2,000 years ago.
The Mohave Indians who live along the nearby lower Colorado River believe the human figures represent Mastamho, the creator of all life. The animal figures represent Hatakulya, a cross between a mountain lion and human, who helped in the creation. Indians held sacred ceremonial dances in the area in ancient times to honor the creation.
Found only in a few places on Earth, giant figures and symbols such as these have been discovered in northern Mexico, Peru, and in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of California and Arizona. Hundreds of intaglios have been found so far. Many are located on private land. The locations of known intaglios on public lands often remain a secret to protect them from vandalism. There is no list available to the public that shows all of the known intaglio sites and their locations, but some estimates claim as many as 600 intaglios can be found in this region. The Blythe Intaglios are the best known and most accessible of this rare, prehistoric art form. A few other intaglios can be found in and around Quartzsite, Arizona, about 35 miles southeast of the Blythe site.
Over time, some intaglios have suffered destruction and vandalism by motorcycles and ATVs, and during World War II, military training exercises damaged or destroyed several other intaglio sites elsewhere in the region. Considered important cultural treasures, the intaglios recently joined other protected sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Today fences surround the Blythe Intaglios to protect them from further damage.
The Blythe Intaglios were discovered in 1931, when local airplane pilot George Palmer discovered the huge figures stretched across the desert floor on the terraces overlooking the Colorado River about fifteen miles north of Blythe. Here are two Google Earth images of the figures.
The figures include a 105.6 foot long human, oriented north-south, with its head pointing toward the south. Its arms are outstretched and its feet point outward. The torso combined with its arm span measures 91.8 feet wide. The figure has visible knees and elbows. Some believe this is a figure of the Creator. It is one of the least disturbed images of the group.
Another human figure is also oriented north-south, with its head pointing south. Its arms are outstretched and the feet point outward. This figure is believed to be of a male, since it was created with a visible phallus between its legs. The figure measures 102 feet from head to toe, and its arms span a distance of 64.9 feet. The left leg is pronouncedly flexed. The figure lacks defined knees, but does have clearly defined elbows. There are no visible fingers or toes. Original aerial photographs revealed a circular path that measured 131 feet in diameter, enclosing the upper half of the figure and crossing the middle of its legs. Today, all that remains of the circular path is the section enclosed by the protective fence.
The animal figure that represents either a horse or mountain lion is oriented northwest to southwest, with the head pointing toward the northwest. It measures 54.1 feet from head to tail, and the body is 7.5 feet wide. The legs measure 26.2 feet long, and at the end of each leg a small circle represents a paw or hoof. Below the animal figure is an elaborate spiral figure measuring 23 feet in length and 8.8 feet wide. One interpretation is that the figure represents a coiled snake. Native American stories from the region tell of Hatakulya, a mountain lion that transformed itself into a human to help the Creator.
No one can say for sure who created these mysterious images or how they did so from a ground-level viewpoint. Speculation for their purpose has ranged from this being an ancient ceremonial site to visitations from outer space. The tantalizing mystery of their origins remains unraveled, and the figures continue to cause speculation.
To create the huge figures, the ancient people scraped away the desert surface, called pavement, to expose the lighter earth below. They outlined the symbols by heaping rocks pulled away from the center around the outside edges, creating sunken designs.
Nearby, an ancient footpath from the desert’s interior to the Pacific Coast indicates an active trade route. Rock cairns at the site arose as passing runners placed stones near the enormous figures.
The Blythe Intaglios are excellent examples of this ancient form of desert art. A sign on U.S. Highway 95 points to the turnoff from the main highway, and a short half mile drive up a gravel road leads to the fenced in intaglios. We drove up the road in a Ford sedan, so any vehicle should be capable of managing the trip. A couple of small parking areas mark the start of two short hiking trails to the intaglios. While the images are not wheelchair accessible, anybody in reasonable physical condition should be able to handle the brief walks to the fenced in images. Access to the third site is more difficult, requiring a half mile hike, part of it up a 10% grade. The paths are unimproved natural gravel.
The view from the ground is limited by the sheer size of the images, and they are best viewed from the air. Signs at the site include aerial views of the images.
No fees or permits are required to visit the Blythe Intaglios, and they are open to the public 24 hours per day, all year long. When you visit, please keep all vehicles on designated roadways and help preserve these cultural resources for future generations to appreciate.
Today is your last chance to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Highland Passage by J.L Jarvis. It’s a time travel historical romance that begins with the heroine blacking out following a car crash on an icy road, and waking up in a mysterious stone chamber being cared for by a kilted man who claims to be an eighteenth century Scottish highlander. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.
Thought For The Day – Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.