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 site 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 gather food and medicine.
As we climb higher we see stone-pecked symbols; star maps, circles, snakes, and other undecipherable patterns pecked and scratched into 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.
His dream 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.
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
How to get to Belfast, CA Petroglyphs
Other places to visit in the Susanville area:
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