Petroglyph Canyon packed with hints at region’s history

Some art is best viewed by plopping yourself down on desert gravel under a big blue sky and gazing upward. That was my approach at the Gallery in Petroglyph Canyon earlier this fall. After a moderately difficult hike, my reward was spotting hundreds of the gallery’s approximately 1,000 American Indian designs and images displayed on two rocky canvases stretching about one-tenth of a mile.

The Sloan Canyon Petroglyph Site, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, is just south of Henderson’s Inspirada housing development. The site’s highest concentration of petroglyphs is reached only by hiking about 2 miles. I chose to follow the 200 Trail, the longer, safer and more manageable of two routes.

Once inside Petroglyph Canyon, I set down my backpack and camera and sat on the shifting gray gravel of the canyon’s wash. I let my eyes adjust to the browns and tans and lines and ledges of the canyon walls and volcanic hillsides. I let my gaze wander in search of rock art while summoning the discipline to not try to win first place in any petroglyph-finding contest. I gave myself about a half-hour to appreciate the art around me but could have spent hours more in the space. What’s the rush when some of these petroglyphs have been around for 5,000 years?

Etched, chipped and pecked into the dark patina of the canyon’s Sloan dacite volcanic rock are abstract swirls, squiggles, geometric patterns, whimsical figures and realistic representations. Some of the petroglyphs are far uphill from the canyon’s floor or 25 feet up a sheer canyon wall, so my binoculars came in handy. Other petroglyphs are at ankle level, like the obvious representation of a Bighorn sheep near the canyon entrance coming down from the 200 Trail. Some appear in dense clusters, while others stand alone. Some 200-year-old petroglyphs showing men on horseback might share space with images created thousands of years earlier in the longtime Bighorn sheep hunting ground. They all tell stories that contribute to Southern Nevada’s human history, but there’s more mystery than known meaning.

“The big question is, what do they mean?” BLM Ranger Jim Flook said while leading a Saturday hike into Petroglyph Canyon. “The answer is, we don’t know. There is no Rosetta Stone that lets us understand the petroglyphs in a way that’s comparable to the hieroglyphics.”

Flook said three working theories suggest the Sloan Canyon petroglyphs could share themes about resource-gathering and Bighorn Sheep hunting; ceremony and religion; and domestic archaeology (“Think, honey-do list”). Archaeologists believe the petroglyphs are affiliated with the Nuwuvi (Southern Pauite), Yuman and Patayan cultures. Pahranagat or Puebloan cultures also might have contributed.

Petroglyphs are puzzling. “The Bighorn sheep glyph is an example of the subjective challenge, because we could think of it either as a food source or faith symbol,” Flook said. It’s sometimes impossible to tell if the images are human-like (anthropomorphic) or animal-like (zoomorphic). An etched grid perched high above hikers might look like a calendar, but it could represent something entirely unrelated to tracking time. Same holds for snake-looking lines on stone left from Mount Sutor’s eruption some 13 million years ago.

Whatever their meanings, a half-day with petroglyphs is time well spent in our backyard gift of Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, where researchers have cataloged 1,700 images and designs created on 300 rock art panels by American Indian cultures from the Archaic to historic eras. Rock art may be appreciated in Petroglyph Canyon without understanding the specifics of its narratives. The petroglyphs and their space invite visitors to imagine past hardships of life in the Mojave Desert and to wonder about the spiritual traditions of the Southern Nevadans who came before us.

What visitors need to know

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area’s visitor contact station is at the end of Nawghaw Poa Road (meaning Mountain Sheep Trail in Paiute). That’s just west of Democracy Drive and Via Firenze at the southern edge of Henderson. Once parked, visitors should see a large informational sign that includes a map and hiking directions. Hikers will find the start of the 101 Trail just below the parking lot and near that sign. The 101 Trail soon leads to the 100 Trail, which is a wide wash that heads into the hills. Follow the wash for about 1.3 miles to a junction marker for the 100 and 200 trails. At the marker, take a right and get on the 200 Trail, if you wish to avoid scrambling up the dry waterfalls on the 100 Trail. On the 200 Trail, you’ll gain 400 vertical feet over a half-mile trail of packed dirt and broken-rock before reaching a pass and then starting downhill to Petroglyph Canyon. Once you reach the wash, look to your left, and you will see Petroglyph Canyon. Follow the wash and be on the lookout for rock art. If you cross the wash and continue straight on the dirt path, you will mistakenly be on the 300 Trail and miss the Gallery.

After finding and viewing (and never touching) the petroglyphs, you’ll be ready to head back to the parking lot for a total trip distance of 4.25 or 5 miles. You can take the 200 Trail and retrace your steps, or there’s the option of returning via the 100 Trail. So I could see the whole canyon, I chose the 100 Trail and carefully slid down the dry waterfalls. Doing so turned my four-hour hike into a loop. The route you choose should be based on your comfort level. No dogs are allowed on the 100 and 200 Trails. More information on group hikes and other helpful insights may be found at, and maps as well as some information about Sloan Canyon’s cultural resources are available at

Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 17 years. Email:

Las Vegas charter school excels in areas of greatest need
Mater Academy Mountain Vista charter school students excel despite the fact that half the students are English language learners and all qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New MLK freeway onramps
How to navigate the trio of new freeway onramps from Martin Luther King Boulevard. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Extreme weather closes Scenic Loop in Red Rock Canyon
High winds and flooding closed the Scenic Loop in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area Thursday. Minor flooding across Highway 159 caused drivers to slow, but didn't close the road. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tourists enjoy rain in downtown Las Vegas
Tourists break out the umbrellas. But Brian Herting of Lincoln, Nebraska, dons shorts and a T-shirt, as he makes his way through downtown Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Thick fog blanketed Las Vegas Valley on Tuesday
Thick fog blanketed Las Vegas Valley on Tuesday. The National Weather Service.forecast called for a 50 percent chance of rain. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Time lapse video of fog covering the Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is shrouded in fog Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Tony Spilotro's Las Vegas home for sale — VIDEO
The former Las Vegas home of Chicago mob enforcer, Tony Spilotro, is now for sale. Spilotro, who was portrayed by Joe Pesci in the film Casino, is the original owner of the home at 4675 Balfour Drive, built in 1974. (Samia DeCubas/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffalo Drive And Mountains Edge Parkway Fatal
Las Vegas police and the Nevada Highway Patrol are investigating a fatal crash in the southwest valley on Saturday afternoon. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV's Joel Ntambwe on his play
UNLV forward Joel Ntambwe talks about his play at this point in the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Sam Schmidt chats about hectic off-season
IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt and lead driver James Hinchcliffe chat about the hectic off-season at the SpeedVegas high-performance driving facility outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
R-J's Mark Anderson on UNLV's victory
Review-Journal sports reporter Mark Anderson recaps UNLV's victory at New Mexico. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
UNLV's Noah Robotham on the win at New Mexico
UNLV guard Noah Robotham talks about winning at New Mexico on Jan. 8, 2019. (Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV's Kris Clyburn on big 3 vs. New Mexico
UNLV guard Kris Clyburn talks about his key 3-pointer against New Mexico. (Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Marvin Menzies on beating New Mexico
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about UNLV's win at New Mexico on January 8, 2019. (Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New HOV Ramp Scheduled to Open in March
New HOV ramp scheduled to open in March of 2019.
American Preparatory Academy part of charter school growth in Las Vegas
American Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas has a waiting list of students who want to attend. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Wheelchair tournament at UNLV
Cesar Robledo talks about wheelchair basketball and what it means for players to compete during the Wheelchair Basketball Division I-II Tournament at UNLV in Las Vegas, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Marvin Menzies on UNLV's trip to Hawaii
UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies talks about the upcoming trip to Hawaii. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Pinecrest Academy Horizon principal wins Milken Educator Award
Tony Sanchez on UNLV's recruiting class
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez talks about his early signing class. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Siegel Cares delivers bagels to families in need
Since Thanksgiving, Mark Lenoir of Siegel Cares, has been delivering leftover Bagelmania bagels to families staying at the Siegel Suites.
Dan Barnson steps down
Arbor View football coach Dan Barnson stepped down Friday after 12 seasons at the helm. Under Barnson, the Aggies won 104 games and became one of the top programs in Las Vegas. The Aggies went 12-2 in 2018 and won a region championship for the first time in program history. Barnson loves Friday nights, but said the 12-month commitment was getting exhausting.
NFR 2018 Highlights
NFR 2018 highlights from every round of this years rodeo.
NFR 2018 Round 10 Highlights
NFR 2018 Round 10 Highlights of the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas, Nevada. (CBS Sports Network/PRCA)
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like