Tucson's Signal Hill Petroglyphs are thought to be as old as 1,000 years or more. Signal Hill is located in Saguaro National Park West, on the western flank of the Tucson Mountains. It's immediately south of the community of Picture Rocks, so named because of the ancient rock art you see here.
I spent my Sunday afternoon hiking in the Park with the intent of photographing some of the petroglyphs to share with you. They're beautiful, aren't they?
No one knows just what they mean. Created by ancient Amerindians known today as Hohokam, the images of the sun, snakes, lizards, game animals and humans may have had religious or ceremonial significance. They may have been clan markers. There's even the possibility that they are just 1,000 year old graffiti!
Abstract designs outnumber life forms (human figures, lizards, game animals, etc.) in Tucson, and petroglyphs like these are found all over the southwest.
In the world of modern art, I'm a fan of Robert Motherwell, so the idea of ancient abstract art just around the mountain from my home gives me a certain sense of joy. Then again, if it's outdoors and involves hiking and photography, I'm all for it.
Creating the finished petroglyph took the Hohokam artist quite a while. Do you want to know how they did it?
The basalt boulders you see here are covered with a substance called "desert varnish," a hard dark coating that hides the lighter basalt rock beneath.
Hohokam artists would "peck" at the surface, striking one rock tool against the surface with another rock repeatedly until the varnish gave way, creating the outline of the petroglyph. If you had the time and inclination, you could do it yourself. (Not in the Park, though.)
Next time you visit Tucson, you can watch modern artists creating petroglyphs in exactly the same manner. You'll find them working periodically at the Tohono Chul Park.
One such artist is Desert Little Bear. His website is www.rockartcreations.com Check him out.
And come visit Tucson soon, but not without calling me first!