About the Petroglyphs of White Tank Mountains

Ancient Arizonans pecked hundreds of figures and symbols on the rock faces of the White Tank Mountains. Some may approach 10,000 years old. All have withstood sun, rain, and vandals for 700 to 800 years, or more.

The Black Rock Trail circles through a Hohokam village site, though the pit houses and trash mounds are hidden to all but the trained eye of an archeologist. The largest group of rock-art panels is along the Waterfall Canyon Trail at “Petroglyph Plaza”. Another big group is near the entrance to the box canyon that gives the trail its name.

A rock drawing was serious business to its maker. While no one can say precisely what most of them “mean”, we know they had important functions in the lives of their makers. They were not simply Stone Age graffiti. The symbols recorded events and marked locations. They were a magical way to control nature so rain would fall or mountain sheep would let themselves be caught. Some served as trail markers and maps. Others represented religious concepts.

Visitors are not permitted to make “tombstone rubbings” of the petroglyphs. It doesn’t work, and it will erode the dark areas, making the petroglyph dimmer. Look at and photograph these figures and symbols of history, but please don’t touch the petroglyphs because skin oils can also damage them.

The Hohokam Indians occupied the valleys around Phoenix and Tucson between 300–1500 CE. Skilled and ingenious farmers, these ancient people left numerous signs of their presence that can still be found today. They engineered one of the most sophisticated canal systems in the ancient world to farm cotton, corn, beans and squash in the basins of the Salt, Gila, and Santa Cruz rivers. Some canals can be detected via satellite and are responsible, at least in part, for the location of Phoenix and its emergence as an agricultural center.

The word Hohokam can be translated as “those who came before” in the language of the Akimel O’odham, or Pima people. It is generally believed that the Piman Indians, including The Tohono O’odham and the Pima (Akimel O’odham) are descended from the Hohokam. Oral histories of the Hopi indicate that their ancestors once lived in the central Arizona region.

No one can say for sure why the Hohokam left the area around 1500 CE, but remnants of their civilization continue to intrigue us.

Hiking in the White Tank Mountains…