Some History: I've been curious for some time about the large signs along the I-17 just north of the Loop 101 indicating "Rock Art Museum". Having previously visited the Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site near Gila Bend, mention of a comparable site in the Hedgpeth Hills is noted in the brochure. A quick internet search of "Hedgpeth Hills" will yield "Deer Valley Rock Art Museum". Add to this a recent book purchase of "A Field Guide to Rock Art Symbols of the Greater Southwest" by Alex Patterson to complete the circular association - - I just had to visit.
Rock art at the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site was made by people hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. The number and variety of markings here suggests that this place has been important to people for a long time. The petroglyphs and the hillside have continuing significance for Native American people of this region. The marks link people to traditions of migration and occupation in the area. Some of the petroglyphs are connected to the religious teachings of different tribes today.
The Deer Valley Rock Art Center developed from federal, state, county, and city partnerships, Adobe Dam was built in 1980 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding along Skunk Creek. The dam, the land, and the building are the property of the Flood Control District of Maricopa County. Arizona State University's Department of Anthropology operates the Center.
The Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the second archaeological site to be listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register. The Rock Art Center was established not only to preserve the 1500 ancient petroglyphs located at the site, but to also provide an academic research center to further the origin, chronology, and interpretation of rock art. Radiocarbon dating of petroglyphs at this site has resulted in ages that range from about 700 years ago to more than 10,000 years ago!
The Hike: Start your hike at the Visitor's Center by paying the $5/person (16+ years of age). Inside is an interpretive display of various artifacts unearthed during the many archeological digs the past 25+ years. As you exit the Visitor's Center at the west end, you have an option for a self-guided tour using the Trail Guide brochure as reference for the 11 marked observation stations. Or take part in the regularly scheduled Academic/Volunteer guided tours to learn even more! You are reminded to stay on the marked trail, not just out of respect (this petroglyph site has religious significance to native Indians), but for your own safety.
Station #1 provides a "valley view" perspective as to what it was like to live near this spot a thousand years ago. Large villages and irrigated fields occupied the region. Skunk Creek flowed most of the year. Remnants of this ancient habitation is being uncovered by an active archeological dig near this station.
Station #2 points out "relocated boulders". During the 1980 construction of Adobe Dam, some boulders with rock art were relocated to this site. Note that only a small handful of these boulders have been relocated. The vast majority are as they were for the ancients many years ago.
Station #3 for a "geology lesson", particularly the volcanic origins of the basalt used by the Hohokam people to shape into manos and metates used to grind corn.
Station #4 gives a "Sonoran desert" lesson, particularly stressing the adaptations made by the plants and animals. There is a requisite Indian garden with corn, squash, and other Hohokam food staples. A surprising number of birds and small animals are present at the site.
Station #5 through #9 for "petroglyphs", ninety per cent of the 1571 catalogued glyphs at this site are located between these stations. There are viewing tubes aimed at some particularly significant glyphs.
Station #10 for the "ramada" that provides a great resting and observation spot.
Station #11 for the "bridge" over Skunk Creek, below the Adobe Dam spillway, serves as a reminder that it is still possible to preserve the past while accommodating the needs of modern man.
Summary: I'm often asked to recommend "family-friendly" hikes. With my personal preference for the strenuous and extreme, I need to find acceptable compromise hikes for family outings. This relatively short, flat, historical excursion certainly fits the bill. You may want to consider that petroglyphs are best viewed when the sun is at lower angles during the early morning and late afternoon. The mid-day sun has a tendency to mask rock art with excessive glare. If you have a passion for Indian ruins and their rock art, you may want to consider this destination for an easy stroll. Enjoy!
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.