Some petroglyphs in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada may be found at the top of the Atlatl Rock staircase (found next to Arch Rock,shortly beyond the West entrance to the park), but most are found on the Mouses Tank Trail/Petroglyph Canyon Trail (found on White Domes Road shortly after the visitor center). The petroglyphs on Mouses Tank Trail/Petroglyph Canyon Trail comprise the majority of the slides on this page.
I’ll say it right off, I know of no more complete study of the Valley of Fire Petroglyphs than the 74-page Master of Arts Degree in Archaeology thesis “Valley of Fire Petroglyphs: A New Perspective On An Old Idea” by Eric Pacl. Eric brings to the discussion both a big picture view and a very detailed analysis of the origin and meaning of the petroglyphs found in the Valley of Fire State Park. Download the entire thesis here.
That being said, here is my paltry summary that pales in comparison to the dissertation of Eric Pacl, but gives a general overview.
Some of the Valley of Fire Petroglyphs date back some 4,000 years. Curiously, there are a few Bristlecone Pine trees in the Mt. Charleston Wilderness (Griffith Peak, Fletcher Peak, Raintree) that come close to that age and were growing as the Valley of Fire Petroglyphs were being etched in the ancient fiery red frozen dunes found in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. But I digress!
The oldest petroglyphs in the Atlatl Rock area appear to date from around 2,000 B.C. Around 2,000 B.C. there was a transition from hunter-gathering to cultivation with the Anasazi cultures. There was another transition to the Southern Paiute cultures in the 12th and 18th centuries.
This is a very sketchy summary, but leads us to look for petroglyphs demonstrating hunting, gathering and cultivation. In addition, there are petroglyphs of shamanic or spiritual significance. According to the thesis, the petroglyphs at the highest elevations are associated primarily with shamanistic activities; those in the middle elevation levels are associated primarily with hunting activities and rituals; and those in the lowest elevation levels are associated primarily with everyday, or domestic activities.
I hesitate to say anything more lest I quickly get in over my head! Read the thesis.
However, I will say that the petroglyph images in the slide show may be the sharpest available anywhere due the the fact that I ran them through a 10-step photoshop process sharpening their image and contrast against their background.
The petroglyphs come from Atlatl Rock (the name derives from an ancient spear-throwing device), the most ancient and perhaps holy site, and Mouse’s Tank Canyon and Trail named for the Southern Piaute “Little Mouse” who hid there after being falsely accused of shooting two prospectors in the 1890s. The natural water cistern, also pictured in the slide show may have been his means of holding out for a period of time in that dry desert area.