Petroglyphs – a Tale of Two Hikes

Rock art comes in three general flavors, so far as I know: petroglyphs, pictographs and geoglyphs. You might think of those as pictures in the rock, on the rock, and of the rock. There are lots of sites around Arizona where you can find rock art dating back hundreds and even thousands of years.
Rock Art:
Before I get into the trails, some background information on the different kinds of rock art:
Petroglyph Plaza Two
Petroglyphs are made by creating an image in the rock itself. The rocks of the southwest United States often have a dark “desert varnish” on their surface and by removing this varnish (usually by using another rock to peck away at it) , the ancient artist (and unfortunately the more recent vandals) can make the underlying, lighter rock show through. I’ll be returning to these in a bit.
Pictographs are images painted on the rock, like the ones at Lascaux. We’ve seen pictographs in Canyon Pintado in Colorado, along state highway 139 between Rangely and Fruita. There are a whole series of sites along that highway, and they are very cool. Our visit, unfortunately, pre-dated going digital, but you can find a description here.
Geoglyphs are made either by removing dark rocks to create a picture from the underlying rocks or dirt, such as the Nasca Lines or by mounding rocks or earth to create large figures, such as the Serpent Mound in Ohio.
One recent type of geoglyph is the hillside letter, or “mountain monogram”, which is usually the initial of a town or school. In the Phoenix area are a couple of these, the “A” above Arizona State’s campus in Tempe and the Phoenix sign on the side of Usery Mountain.
They’re all over the state. This one is above the town of Jerome.
Jerome J
Arizona has another type of geoglyph, the intaglio. Intaglios (pronounced in-tahl’-yohs) are “negative” geoglyphs of figures. The word comes from engraving, where an image is sunk in rock or other hard material and then used to create a low relief image when it is stamped on something. In this case, the most famous Arizona intaglio is of the Bouse Fisherman, but there are some 200 of them scattered along the Colorado River flood plain in Arizona and California, according to some reports (I haven’t counted them!).
Okay, that’s the background.
Petroglyph hikes:
Arizona has petroglyphs throughout the state. The ones we recently visited were in the Valley around Phoenix, but farther afield, we’ve seen them near Sedona and in the Petrified Forest as well.
We went to see two sites recently. One was at the far west side of the Valley in the White Tank Mountain Regional Park and the other at the far east end of the Valley, on the south side of the Superstitions.
The White Tank Mountain trail is only about a half mile to the petroglyphs, and it is a very smooth trail indeed. There is a grade to get to the petroglyphs, but no other impediments, and there are benches available along the path. The Waterfall Trail continues on past the “Petroglyph Plaza” for another half mile to the end of the canyon. The waterfall is only around when it has just rained…
Petroglyph Plaza Waterfall Trail
Petroglyph Plaza One
The Hieroglyphics Trail, on the other hand, is a moderately difficult hike (on my scale) with a total distance (one way) of 2.2 miles.
It’s difficult to find the trailhead. After that it’s relatively easy. Here are the instructions:

Directions to Hieroglyphics Trailhead (from http://www.arizonahiking.org/Hyrogliph.htm):

  1. From the East Valley follow US 60 East to South Kings Ranch Road.
    — Kings Ranch Road is 14.1 miles east of Power Road for reference.
  2. Turn north on Kings Ranch Rd and follow to 2.8 miles to Baseline.
  3. Turn east on Baseline and follow 0.2 miles to Mohican.
  4. Turn north onto Mohican and follow 0.4 miles to Valleyview Road.
  5. Turn west onto Valleyview and follow (naturally turns North, and turns into Whitetail Road) for 1.4 miles.
  6. Turn east at the intersection of Whitetail Rd. and Cloudview Road and follow 0.4 miles to the end.
The trailhead parking is here and the trail is easy to spot to the east.
It climbs from the trailhead up onto a ridge and then follows the ridge up to a canyon on the south side of the Superstitions. The trail is mostly a long slope with little up-and-down variations. The footing ranges from smooth dirt to cobbles and occasional rock, so the moderate difficulty is the combination of all those factors.
Hieroglyphics Trail Rocky Climb
This is one of the rockier sections on the trail. Mostly the stones are smaller and much of the path is fairly smooth.
Hieroglyphics Trail The Goal
The rock art is alongside some pools of water that formed where the water comes down through that basin.
Hieroglyphics Trail Superstition View
The view from the trail covers not only the Superstitions, but the SanTans, the mountains east and south of the Superstitions, and some of the western ones. A wide vista!
Hieroglyphics Trail Panel
The two hikes together range from easy to moderate and give you a chance experience the desert in very different ways.
While we did these two, those aren’t all, by any means, even within the Valley. For example, there’s also a great site at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center in the far north Valley and there are many petroglyphs in South Mountain Park.