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Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, AZ

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Guide 17 Triplogs  3 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Southwest > Buckeye SW
2.5 of 5 by 6
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Difficulty 0.5 of 5
Distance Round Trip 0.58 miles
Trailhead Elevation 590 feet
Elevation Gain 20 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 0.75 hrs
Kokopelli Seeds 0.68
Backpack No
Dogs not allowed
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
11  2017-08-02
Oatman Massacre / Fourr Cemetery
19  2017-01-15 AZHiker456
15  2017-01-02
Oatman Massacre / Fourr Cemetery
25  2015-02-24 kingsnake
29  2015-02-24
Gila River Valley Meander
10  2013-03-14 NatureKopelli
33  2012-04-20 NatureKopelli
13  2011-12-18
Along the Gila Trail - Dec2011
Page 1,  2
Author Randal_Schulhauser
author avatar Guides 71
Routes 98
Photos 9,967
Trips 1,009 map ( 9,248 miles )
Age 59 Male Gender
Location Ahwatukee, AZ
Co-Author joebartels
co-author avatarGuides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,825
Trips 4,259 map (21,438 Miles)
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Dec, Jan, Feb, Nov → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Autumn to Late Winter
Sun  6:20am - 6:30pm
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Death of a river
by Randal_Schulhauser & joebartels

It's another July weekend with +115 degrees F temperatures in the forecast. I needed something that would satisfy my passion for exploring prehistoric ruins and rock art. I decided that the Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, west of Gila Bend might fit the bill. This is a short, self-guided hike in an area ripe with history - but with a strange "ghost town" atmosphere today (more on this later).

Drove 104 miles from my Ahwatukee Foothills home to the "trail head" parking lot in less than 90 minutes (don't ask!). There is a $2 per vehicle permit required with an honor system fee box at the entrance. Walk through the trail entrance and behold the petroglyph site ' a massive jumble of piled boulders.

Along the loop trail, you will immediately encounter a series of interpretive plaques depicting cultural and geological history. There are also some "Rules of the Road" posted reminding visitors to stick to the trails and not to touch, move, or climb on the rocks since they are extremely delicate. You will find out that the Tohono O'odham people have called this area home for thousands of years. They believe they are descended from the people known as the Hohokam. These petroglyphs have accumulated over a broad reach of time estimated from 7500 B.C. to 1450 A.D. (not counting the recent graffiti punks!). Walk along the loop trail and see the various rock art depictions of animals, people, shapes, and events. There is also an abundance of lizards calling the site home.

You will discover that the petroglyph site is at the crossroads of many historic trails similar to the Butterfield Pass Trail. Juan Bautista de Anza led a group of Spanish colonizers from Tucson to San Francisco and camped near this site in the fall of 1775. The Mormon Battalion passed by here in 1846 on their way to fight in the Mexico-United States war. The Butterfield Stage route also passed by from 1858 to 1861 carrying the mail from St. Louis Missouri to San Francisco California. This corridor is also known as the Southern Trail or Arizona Trail in many history books. The geologic history is primarily volcanic. Evidence of lava abounds in all directions. Yes the area is rich in history, but to me the primary attraction remains the rock art.

There are many picnic tables located under shaded ramadas. Bring your lunch and spend some time. The maintained, 0.58 mile, self-guided, loop trail makes this a fine introduction to some southwest history for children young and old. The trail rounds the petroglyph site perimeter and has a cross-trail bisecting the middle with access to the top of the boulder pile. Remember not to climb on any of the rocks...


As a footnote, need to elaborate on the "ghost town" atmosphere at this site. I only encountered one visiting vehicle during my stay at the petroglyph site. I passed a total of zero vehicles on the road to and from the dam. The Painted Rocks Dam is located about 4.5 miles further North along Painted Rocks Road. The dam is closed with an abundance of "No Trespassing" signs and barbwire fences preventing any access to the area. Many maps indicate petroglyph sites in the general area behind the dam. Joe Bartels adds...

The BLM explains...
The former Painted Rocks State Park included a "Lake Unit" near Painted Rocks Dam approximately 4.5 miles north of the Petroglyph Site. This area included camping facilities and was a popular fishing attraction, but was closed to the public in 1989 due to unsafe levels of pollutants in the Gila River. Currently, there is no public access to Painted Rocks Dam or the Lake Unit.

It's only one of many issues associated with the mighty Gila River ruined by man.

Alan Alda quote from a gut wrenching PBS special (I believe filmed in the Sacaton community)...
These are the Arizona Pima, close cousins to the Mexican tribe. This community suffers from the world's highest rate of obesity and its common complication, diabetes. Half the adults here develop it. The puzzle is that, as the NIH study has shown, the Arizona Pima eat no more, and no differently, than most Americans. Yet their obesity rate is much higher -- 80 percent versus 30 percent nationally. The challenge now is to find out why these people gain so much weight. Until early in the century, these people were farmers. They call themselves Akimel O'Odham -- the River People -- after the Gila River, which sustained their crops. But that way of life, along with the river, dried up when the waters were dammed and diverted.

Check out the Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

    BLM Division Details
    GENERAL INFORMATION: Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, approximately 90 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona, provides visitors the opportunity to view an ancient archaeological site containing hundreds of symbolic and artistic rock etchings, or "petroglyphs," produced centuries ago by prehistoric peoples. There are also inscriptions made by people who passed through during historic times. Many well- known events in Arizona history occurred near the Petroglyph Site, including the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza that founded San Francisco, the Mormon Battalion and the Butterfield Overland Mail. Formerly a unit of the Arizona State Park system, jurisdiction of Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site reverted to the Bureau of Land Management in 1989.

    ACCESS: Exit Interstate 8 at Painted Rock Dam Road (Exit 102) approximately 12.5 miles west of Gila Bend. Travel north on Painted Rocks Dam Road (paved) 10.7 miles to Rocky Point Road (unpaved). Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site is 0.6 miles west of Painted Rock Dam Road on Rocky Point Road.

    FACILITIES: Picnic tables, barbeque grills, steel fire rings and a vault toilet are provided for picnicking and primitive camping. A ramada is available for group activities. No potable water, trailer hook-ups or dump stations are provided--these facilities are available nearby in Gila Bend. During October through April, a Campground Host is on site.

    MAPS: Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site is shown on most Arizona road maps as "Painted Rocks State Park."

    * Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site receives the greatest visitation from October through April. At other times, the area receives little use.
    * Winter Temperatures vary from freezing at night to near 80 F during daytime. Summer temperatures vary from near 70 F at night to near 120 F during daytime.
    * Drinking water is not provided at Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, so bring plenty.
    * You may encounter rattlesnakes or other poisonous creatures; watch for them and be careful where you put your hands and feet. Do not harass reptiles. Most bites result from people playing with, collecting, or attempting to kill them.
    * Help to preserve this important archaeological site by not climbing or marking on the rocks. Many rocks have been broken or tumbled due to people climbing on them and several have been defaced.

    Bureau of Land Management
    Phoenix Field Office
    21605 N.7th Avenue
    Phoenix, Arizona 85027
    (623) 580-5500
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site
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    Gila River Valley Meander
    I've been planning this trip for about two years. The basic plan was to: 1) Drive Painted Rock Rd. to the petroglyph site. 2) Drive Rocky Point Rd. / Oatman Rd. to the Fourr Cemetery and Oatman Massacre sites. 3) Back up Oatman Rd., when continue northwest on Rocky Point Rd., then southwest on Hyder Rd. 4) Head south on Ave. 76E / Old Agua Caliente Rd. to the ghost town / pioneer cemetery. 5) Return up Ave. 76E, then continue west on Hyder Rd. checking out the ghost towns of Hyder and Horn. 6) Head south on Ave. 64E to Dateland Army Airfield. 7) Finish the day with a date shake, before heading back to Phoenix at a rush hour avoiding time. :scared:

    Painted Rock Petroglyphs: There are two small hills. The western, larger, hill has very few samples. The eastern, smaller, hill has tons of glyphs. Some so dense you cannot distinguish the symbols. Some more modern, ranging in my view from 1879 to 1954. The indian petroglyphs were mostly on the south side; I wonder if there is some social significance to that, similar to the Navajo having their hogan doors facing east? :-k But you can see pretty much everything there is to see in 30 minutes, an hour at most if you read the entirety of the many info signs. Video: .

    West of Painted Rock, the road becomes gravel, but is a decent, car-drivable, surface. After crossing the bone dry Gila River, where the road Ts, we turned left on Oatman Rd.

    Fourr Cemetery: The Fourr family were pioneers who settled on Oatman Flat in the 1870s, where the father was a rancher and Butterfield Stage agent. Four of their six children born on Oatman Flat are buried in the cemetery. It's very tiny, but well maintained and quite peaceful. Amazingly, there is 4-bar Verizon reception here, perhaps due to the antenna farm on Oatman Mountain. This is as far as you should go without at least AWD. :stop:

    Oatman Memorial: We followed a farm road that had very deep, very fine, dusty surface. I had fun trying to keep my SUV pointing straight ahead as the rear waved back-and-forth. :D After a mile, we got out and walked the rest of the way to what I thought was the massacre site, but which turned out to be the memorial. I hate leaving things incomplete, so I will be back to visit the massacre site, which is on the south bluff of the Gila River, about a quarter mile from the memorial.

    ... Fourr / Oatman Video:

    We returned up the dusty farm road, and Oatman Rd., then I looked for a short cut to Rocky Point Rd. to avoid driving back around the farm. There is no short cut, but I did find a "car farm", with at least four vehicles from the 1930s. Rocky Point Rd., from the farm up to the pass, has a fair amount of gravel, some of it larger, but should still be car drivable: Just go slow to avoid kicking anything up into your oil pan. (Help is a long way away.) From the top of the pass down to Hyder Rd. is smooth sailing, as is the first several miles west on Hyder Rd., which is also dirt.

    Agua Caliente: The Pioneer Cemetery ( ) is still being occasionally used. The most recent burial I saw was 2012, oldest birth of a resident was a husband (b. 1835) and wife (b. 1836). Lots of Conde, Perez and Amabisca family members there. Most of the older graves are unmarked. One was obviously empty! :o After lunch and a quick Nooner -- get your filthy mind out of the gutter, it's a beer! :D -- I checked out the remains of Agua Caliente ( ). There are several intact walls, and many very decayed. I wanted to scope out the spa, but it was plastered with "No Tresspassing" signs, and had a huge satellite dish, so someone was keeping an eye on it. Onward!

    We returned to Hyder Rd. I wanted to stop at what looked like an old motel on Ave. 76E, and also check out the many abandoned buildings in Hyder, but they all had "No Trespassing" signs, and the old motel looked like someone lived on the ground in trailer. :gun: I've no need for bullet holes, so skipped them. I found two abandoned sites just west of Hyder. The first looked like an old motor court, complete with an obvious pool for weary travellers. The second, included a one-pump gas station, and several other foundations. No memorials on Hyder Rd., as there is so little traffic you will probably not see another moving vehicle unless you stop to do some exploring.

    Horn: Quite a few foundations in Horn, and an incredible amount of old bottles, especially green. Many of the bottles were intact, so a I snagged a few. There were also several of what looked like covered mine shafts. There's no mine shafts on the topo, so maybe they were wells, or something else? :-k

    Dateland Army Airfield: I did not realize Camp Horn was so close, or we would have stopped there as well. (Future trip ...) Instead, we turned south for Dateland Army Airfield. It's much larger than I an anticipated, and I had no idea where any remaining buildings would be, so we pretty much walked out to the end of Runway 1/19 (the longest) took a quick look, then headed back to the SUV. A local had seen us, and stopped to chat. He clued us in to one building, which is where they zeroed machineguns. It look like a back stop: Open on one side, with a mound of sand against the opposite wall. Lots of graffiti inside.

    Our tour complete, it was time for date shakes. :y:
    Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site
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    Along the Gila Trail - Dec2011
    Along the Gila Trail - Dec2011

    Put some miles on the F-150 today dodging rain showers and retracing a section of the GILA TRAIL while on the "trail of the ancients" from;

    Casa Grande Ruins National Monument =>
    Hohokam Pima National Monument (aka "Snaketown") =>
    Patio Area Petroglyph Site =>
    Gatlin Site - Gila Bend =>
    Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site =>
    Sears Point Petroglyph Site =>
    Antelope Hill Petroglyph Site =>
    Confluence of Gila River with Colorado River near Yuma AZ? => Unexplored territory for this author (but suspect the area is rich in ancient artifacts...)

    Missed out on a "drive-by" of the Fortaleza Ruins between the Gatlin Site and Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site => viewtopic.php?t=2915#p32656

    I've embedded in a HAZ FORUM post a reference document I used researching the GILA TRAIL => viewtopic.php?t=6627 . Thought I would share with HAZ members.

    I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with some "insights" on rock art near the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. I've never had a chance to explore this area and suspect there are some significant sites. :wrt:

    Started the day heading down the I-10 towards Casa Grande searching out the "Snaketown" site near Gila River bridge. From the NPS website;

    "Hohokam Pima National Monument was authorized by Congress on October 21, 1972, to protect an ancient Hohokam village known today as "Snaketown." Excavations in the 1930's and again in the 1960's revealed the site was inhabited from about 300 BC to around 1200 AD and may have had up to 2,000 inhabitants. Following the last excavations, the site was completely recovered with earth, leaving nothing visible above ground. The Monument is located on the Gila River Indian Reservation and is under tribal ownership. The Gila River Indian Community has decided not to open the extremely sensitive area to the public. There is no park brochure, passport stamp, picture stamp or other free literature available. Snaketown was first excavated in 1934 by the Gila Pueblo Foundation, under the direction of Harold S. Gladwin. Between 1964-1965, a second excavation was led by Emil Haury. The two expeditions discovered that the site contained more than sixty midden mounds. A central plaza and two ovel shaped fields were surrounded by pit houses, and an elaborate irrigation system fed the nearby fields in which beans, maize and squash were grown."

    My home library has many historical photos from the principal archeologists from the "Snaketown digs" and I recall some of the artifacts are on display at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. I conduct a drive-by of the Snaketown site bounded by the I-10 on the east, the Gila River on the south, Maricopa Road on the west and Riggs Road on the north. The site is completely buried, unkown, and returned to nature. Check out the 2009 video archive posted by University of Arizona commemorating the excavation's 75th anniversary =>

    I now head towards the village of Maricopa and Hwy 238 in search of the Patio Area Petroglyph Site => A chance to explore before a squall line comes in from the south bringing some serious rain. Time to head out.

    A stop at the Shawmutt Trainspotting Loop yields some interesting clouds. The dogs are appreciative of the chance to stretch their legs after that bumpy escape along the 4x4 tracks from the Patio Area.

    Next up is the Gatlin Site. A sad, lonely spot after the acrimonious divorce between the Town of Gila Bend and the Arizona Archeological Society.

    A stop in Gila Bend to pick up some 'burgs and we make the trek out to the Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site to enjoy lunch in the pouring rain!

    Sears Point and Antelope Hill (was also going to check the nearby Texas Hill rock art site, but had enough rain for one day) are up next before the stretch run home to catch the 2nd half and OT of the Cards game...
    Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site
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    The glyphs are very interesting in their profusion and concentration - the whole site is a small pile of boulders, many of which are completely covered in glyphs. However, the location was way too civilized for our tastes, surrounded by farms, power-lines, and RVs (the site has a large developed campground that seems to attract them). We checked it out for a half-hour or so, then moved on to the MUCH more awesome and remote Sears Point petroglyph site about an hour west - much more highly recommended if you have a high-clearance vehicle.

    Permit $$
    information is in description

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Phoenix, take the I-10 East towards Tucson. At exit 164 for Hwy 347, travel West and South 15 miles to the rapidly growing town of Maricopa. Turn right at the Hwy 238 (aka Maricopa Road) intersection and travel 38 miles to the town of Gila Bend. At the Hwy 85 intersection, turn left (West) and travel through the town of Gila Bend. At the west end of town, follow the I-8 West towards San Diego. Travel 12.5 miles along I-8 until you reach exit 102 for Painted Rock Road . Travel North on Painted Rock Road 10.7 miles until you reach the junction of Rocky Point Road . Travel West 0.6 miles along Rocky Point Road until you see the entrance to the Petroglyph Site on the South side of the road. There's plenty of parking at the Petroglyph Site TrailHead.
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