Southern Sierra Pictograph & Petroglyph Sites
on the east margin of the San Joaquin Valley
(click the images below for more detail)

In remote areas of the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains on the southeast side of the San Joaquin Valley, there are art galleries hidden away in sandstone caves and beneath the overhangs of solitary rock outcrops. These galleries are the work of the Patwisha (Balwisha) Monache, the Wukchumni Yokuts, and the Kawaiisu, who traded with the Tulumne Yokuts and Yowlumne Yokuts of the valley floor. Their rock art ranges from simple pictographs and petroglyphs with geometric designs to complex multicolor images of animals and events that they encountered in their everyday lives. Some believe that these images were created by shamans for religious or ceremonial reasons, possibly to influence spirits to intervene in human affairs, or perhaps for those spirits to simply stay away. Others believe that these images are the work artisans simply seeking an outlet for their creativity. But no one knows for sure, and these works of art stand out as vivid reminders of a way of life that is no more.



Hospital Rock (Sequoia National Park) is a rock shelter located on Highway 198, above the Foothills Visitor Center. There are pictographs here, and nearby are bedrock mortars, and a "prayer stone", which is a boulder dimpled with numerous cupules. The rock art here is likely the work of the Patwisha Monache.


Kern River Painted Rock (Kern County) is a fantastic panel of rock art that sits up above the Kern River in the Lake Isabella area. People running the river in rafts float by these pictographs all the time, and they are well known to many residents of Lake Isabella and Wofford Heights. Yet even though the art is easily seen from Highway 178, most motorists speed by it completely unawares of the incredible archaeological wonder nearby.


Little Petroglyph Canyon (Kern County) on the China Lake Naval Weapons Station has petroglyphs attributed to an ancestral Koso (Coso) people, who spoke a Paiute-type language, as did the the Mono, Kawaiisu and Tubatulabal. However, the Coso lived in the region thousands of years before the others appeared, and the Coso might even have been the ancestors of the others. The collection of petroglyphs found here in the canyon is one of the finest in North America.


Rocky Hill (Tulare County) is one of a handful of boulder-strewn hillsides in Tulare County with boulders adorned with pictographs. Although most of these are on private land and show signs of vandalism, Rocky Hill, which also has bedrock mortars, is preserved and protected. The rock art here was likely the work of the Wukchumni (Kaweah River) band of the Foothill Yokuts.


Lake Kaweah and the Terminus Dam (Tulare County) is an important archaeological site near Three Rivers in Tulare County. It had pictographs and hundreds of bedrock mortars that were destroyed in 1962 by the Army Corp of Engineers when they built the Terminus Dam and Lake Kaweah Reservoir. The rock art here was likely the work of the Wukchumni (Kaweah River) band of the Foothill Yokuts.


Painted Rocks (Tule River Indian Reservation) is a giant rock shelter located near Porterville in Tulare County. Rock shelters may have had religious significance, like this one, which contains pictographs. The rock art here precedes the creation of the reservation, and is likely the work of the Yaudanchi (Tule River) band of the Foothill Yokuts.


Tomo-Kahni State Historic Park (Kern County) has rock art that is the work of the Kawaiisu, who spent their winters in Sand Canyon near Tehachapi. In fact, Tomo-Kahni is said to mean "winter home" in their language. Today, the rock art in the canyon is protected by the park, which has very limited public access, but provides occassional tours to view the pictographs, and other archaeological features preserved nearby.




Copyright © 1999- - Southern Sierra High Adventure Team