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Writing in Rock

Jim Byous

 

Petroglyph looking north

This basalt boulder hangs above Willow Creek and is marked with dozens of pertoglyphs near Susanville, California on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Petroglyphs of Susanville, California

The volcanic boulders are rough and scratch my hands as I climb the jumbled tangle of basalt talus to the top of the bluff.  Dave Marson, a life-long friend, steps up the slope mountain-goat style bounding ahead of me.  He is familiar with this destination where petroglyphs that marked the sight for thousands of years.  Hanging above Willow Creek, the Belfast Petroglyphs are in a protected area that is sacred to the descendants of the Maidu, Paiute, Pit River and Washoe Tribes who live on the Susanville Indian Rancheria.  They still use the site to fish, hunt, and to gather food and medicine.

Algae and Lichen

Brightly colored algae and lichen patches streak down the sides of the upper rock crags.

As we climb higher we see stone-pecked symbols; star maps, circles, snakes, and other undecipherable patterns pecked and scratched into the the boulders.  Did I say, “Snakes?”  This writing in rock was here long before Captain Charles Merrill, a former sea captain, came to develop the land in 1864.

Petroglyphs, star maps, moon and owl.

On this boulder star maps can be seen along with a crescent moon and an owl-shaped glyph.

His dreams of creating a thriving city was futile and premature.  The land still lies empty showing few remnants of the settlement’s roads and streets designed to hold 21,000 people.  The name Belfast was to commemorate Merrill’s home of Belfast, Maine.  Here he planted three thousand poplar trees to dot the flat, desert plane.

Grinding Rock

A grinding depression on top of a basalt slab.

On top of the bluff the talus rubble turns into a boulder-strewn flat where generations of original inhabitants camped.  Dave points out the grinding holes that dot the stones.  Some are many inches deep confirming their use over the years.  An anthropology major in college, he decided to forego the profession for a home and a life in the mountains.  His knowledge of the Native American tribes and sites in the area will rival most professors in the university system.

I stop to look around.  From here the view is excellent.   With the creek and canyon on two sides it is a perfect spot for watching the valley.   It would be hard for an enemy to sneak up and surprise the occupants.  Below along Willow Creek game trails follow the course of the waterway making the towering rocks a perfect hideout for hunting game.

It is springtime and beautiful.  Later in the year the area will turn brown like other California and Nevada desert planes.  But today color is abundant, green grass, purple Collinisa, blue Lupine and golden California Poppies.

The sun is dropping, white clouds dot the cyan sky.  The breeze is cool and refreshing.  But, it’s time to go.  This historic spot is a pleasant place.  A peaceful place.  We pick our way back down toward the car through the rocks.  I notice the snake glyphs as we pass.  Maybe we should be a little less peaceful and a little more vigilant… but still, pleasantly vigilant.  – JB

1 1 1 snake petro BYO_8369

A snake glyph stained red by algae.

1 1 1 Snake gliphs BYO_8406

Snake glyphs.

1 1 1 snake effigy petroglyph BYO_8392

Star maps above a snake glyph.

1 1 1 petroglyph 99 BYO_8366

And still another red snake glyph.

1 1 1 Marston copy bb

As we left, the sun began to set behind the Sierra Nevada to the east.

1 1 1 Colinsia BYO_8436

Collinsia and other wild flowers grow among the boulders.

1 1 1 coil petroglyph b BYO_8386

A weathered spiral glyph above Willow Creek.

1 1 1 four directions BYO_8373

The Four Directions symbol is universal among Native American symbolism.

How to get to Belfast, CA Petroglyphs

pet loc

Other places to visit in the Susanville area:

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Historical Museum

Eagle Lake Recreational Area

Susanville Ranch Park

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© J.D. Byous 2018, All rights reserved.

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