Saturday, May 26, 2012

Trailing archaeology: records of early Americans at Lagomarsino

The Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site features an impressive amount of abstract images pecked or scratched in basalt boulders and rock walls. Images of humans and animals such as the one shown above (a frog, human being or something else?) are rare. An interpretive board at the site explains that the size and complexity of Lagomarsino kept archaeologists from being able to fully document the rock art until the Nevada Rock Art Foundation (NRAF) and Storey County began in 2003 the enormous task of recording the site by photographing and drawing every petroglyph and mapping its precise location. The details are well documented on the NRAF Lagomarsino website [1].  This website puts the representations seen at Lagomarsino in context with those found at other rock art localities in the Great Basin. In conclusion, over 2,200 rock art panels were documented during field observations, including some occurrences of vandalism.

Overall, Lagomarsino is in good condition. The NRAF website explains that some forms of  natural destruction must be expected: surface spalling, lichen growth, weather-related exposure and infrequent displacement and damage of images on boulders that have tumbled down the talus slope from their original position.  

In addition to rock art, a few other archaeological features (milling features, projectile point fragments) were found at Lagomarsino, suggesting that the site was occupied—at least seasonally [1].   

Keywords: archaeology, anthropology, cultural heritage, pre-columbian art.

References and links
[1] The Nevada Rock Art Foundation: Lagomarsino Canyon Petroglyph Site [].
[2] The Lagomarsino Canyon and how to get there by hiking via Long Valley Creek Trail.

Trailing archaeology: abstract images of the Lagomarsino Petroglyph panels

The Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site in Northern Nevada is a quarter-of-a-mile-long talus slope and basalt cliff with painted boulders and rock walls. Most of the ancient rock art is abstract, composed of design elements like dots, straight lines, grids, circles and waves. The primary technique used by the artists was pecking, but abrasion and scratching techniques can also be found [1]. An interpretive panel at the site asks the question What Does Rock Art Mean? and gives the following answer:

The ancient peoples of North America left no written records of their culture. For us to gain an understanding of what happened here in the past, we rely on clues these early Americans left behind in the remains of their villages, monuments, and artifacts. Like artwork today, the images here at Lagomarsino likely had many different functions: spiritual, cultural and practical. While we can never know for sure what the artists who created it were thinking, we do know that what you see before you had spiritual and cultural significance to both the artists and their audience.

According to systematic field work by the Nevada Rock Art Foundation (NRAF), rectilinear and curvilinear forms outnumber circular designs [1]. Although abstract imagery is dominating, one can find some anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms. The combinatorial diversity of motifs is mind-boggling. The motivation and the meaning of the abstract figures or the intent of the people who created them a long time ago is not known to us. But do we understand all the artistic styles and ideas expressed by contemporary artist?

Keywords: archaeology, anthropology, cultural heritage, pre-columbian art.

References and links
[1] The Nevada Rock Art Foundation: Lagomarsino Canyon Petroglyph Site [].
[2] The Lagomarsino Canyon and how to get there by hiking via Long Valley Creek Trail.

Trailing archaeology: about the Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site

The Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site is a cultural heritage site in the Lagomarsino Canyon of  the Virginia Range east of Reno/Tahoe in Nevada. The site can be accessed via dirt road from Virginia City (for example, see the detailed post by Daphne and Larry Worsham) or by hiking the Long Valley Creek Trail from Lockwood. This inspirational place of important North American Rock Art has already been studied in the early 1900s by local Reno residents, followed by UC researchers from Berkeley and, since June 2003, by archaeologists and volunteers of the Nevada Rock Art Foundation (NRAF).

An information panel behind the locked steel gate at the entrance to the petroglyph area summarizes the local rock art history:

The Lagomarsino Petroglyph Site is one of the largest rock art sites in Nevada, with over 2,200 petroglyph panels pecked into boulders nestled on the talus and cliff face in front of you. These representational and abstract images were created over a span of at least 10,000 years, and although we do not know what the images mean, they still hold great significance and deserve to be respected.

The basalt bouders of the Lagomarsino talus slope are dark gray. The engravings thereon show a light gray and sometimes light yellowish green color, such that they could be mistaken for lichen, were it not for their distinct and artistic shapes. While boulder hopping upward to the fine-grained basalt cliff, be careful not to step onto art. On a hot summer day, you may want to watch out for those rattle snakes that love to hang out in the shade between the rocks. What was the spiral inspired by?  A coiled-up snake, labyrinthian dreams, a celestial event or ...? Now it's your turn to decipher these fascinating documents of pre-columbian, American heritage!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Long Valley Creek Trail, Virginia Range, Nevada

Long Valley Creek is a north-south trending valley through the Virginia Range east of Reno & Sparks. This valley begins east of  Virginia City and leads down to the Truckee River at Lockwood. About half way, the Lagomarsino Canyon branches off to the east. Lagomarsino is a remote petroglyph site, which is accessible via a five- to six-mile-long hike, one way, through Long Valley from Lockwood. Cutting through a desert landscape with canyon-like stretches, Long Valley Creek seems like a never-ending oasis snaking through areas with sand and gravel mounds as well as rock outcrops and basalt cliffs. Cotton wood trees and lush vegetation flank the flowing riverlet. Green water plants, frogs and fish are found plentiful. A few locations feature various structures remaining from times when people were settling, farming and prospecting the neighborhood.

Getting there
From Interstate 80 take Exit 22 and slowly drive on Canyon Road through the community of Lockwood. Follow this road for about three miles along the creek until you see a parking area to your left. There are no facilities and no trail signs. Follow the creek and trail in eastward direction. Soon the creek bends south. The trail continues to follow the creek, which it crosses—you have to cross—several times to get to the Lagomarsino site.

Lagomarsino Canyon, Northern Nevada

Lagomarsino Canyon is located in the Virginia Range east of Reno/Sparks in Storey County, Northern Nevada. This remote location is known for its prehistoric rock art of Native Americans: the quarter-mile long boulder-loaded slope and the top ridge walls have served early American artists as a natural canvas. The thousands of carvings are believed to be over 2,000 years old [1-3].

The Lagomarsino rock art is inspiring. But what was it inspired by? Were the petroglyphs carved into those gray rocks as ancient graffiti, ritual recreation or encoded knowledge? Did this talus slope serve as an open-air class room? Backyard traveler Rich Moreno, who has visited so many ghost towns and historical places in Nevada, wrote:

Centuries-old carvings of human stick figures, geometric shapes, animal symbols, circles, and seemingly random lines and squiggles, that even the most brilliant archaeologists have been unable to decipher, peek from the dark, rock walls and challenge all to read them. Rich Moreno, 2008 [1].

Climbing on top of the basalt cliff (by not stepping onto painted rocks), one gets vistas of the heritage site and the desert landscape all the way to the distant Sierra Nevada mountain range. The picture above shows rocks at the edge of the Lagomarsino Canyon. The westward view goes over the canyon to the northern end of the Carson Range: if you look closely, you can spot the Mt Rose Wilderness at the horizon, still with patches of snow cover (May 19, 2012).

Keywords: geography, archaeology, anthropolgy, petroglyphs, rock art, hiking, boulder climbing.

References and more to explore
[1] Rich Moreno: Northern Nevada's Lagomarsino Canyon is a Special Place. October 15, 2008 [].
[2] The Nevada Rock Art Foundation: Lagomarsino Canyon Petroglyph Site [].
[3] The Nature Conservancy: Petroglyphs of Lagomarsino Canyon.  February 7, 2012 [].

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Solar eclipse seen from Halo Trail near Reno, Nevada

On Sunday, May 20, 2012, a rare alignment of the Earth, Moon and Sun took place. This was an annular eclipse with the Moon directly in front of the Sun, while a ring of sunlight, nicknamed ring of fire, remained visible around the disc of the Moon. Since the Sun was not entirely covered by the Moon, it was not safe to look unaided at the constellation—even during the five minutes of totality. In the Reno/Tahoe area, however, clouds were passing through and were partially or fully covering the Sun for various times while “the Moon was moving across the sun.” Such intervals gave an opportunity for direct glimpses and photographing. The top picture above shows a half-ring of fire blurred by cloud movement. The lower picture to the right shows the Sun about half an hour past totality, still partially covered. The Halo Trail and other treeless locations around Mt. Peavine provide great places to watch celestial events. While some solar-eclipse observers were aiming northeast to Pyramid Lake to capture the maximum eclipse with a perfectly centered moon, hikers and bikers from the Truckee Meadows populated the Peavine hills and slopes to find their best angle of view.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Veatch's stickleaf on dry slopes of Mt. Peavine, Nevada

Veatch's stickleaf (Mentzelia veatchiana) is a flowering plant native to California (including Baja California), Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. The displayed plant was seen on a southeast-facing slope of Mt. Peavine near Reno.

Typical plants show an erect growth. Flowers have satiny yellow petals that are deep orange at the base: orange “eye” on corolla [1]. The picture below shows a stickleaf's leaf, which is deeply cleft into narrow lobes containing white hairs.

Veatch's stickleaf belongs to the Loasa family (Loasaceae). This species is also known by the common name Veatch's blazingstar [2]. Less common are names such as whitestem stickleaf or whitestem blazingstar [3].

Variant terminology: Veatch's stick-leaf, Veatch's stick leaf, Veatch's blazing star

Keywords: botany, wildflower, Reno/Tahoe, Great Basin, southwestern United States.

References and more to explore 
[1] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe WildflowersA Month-by-Month Guide to Wildflowers in the Tahoe Basin and Surrounding Areas. A Falcon Guide, Morris Book Publishing, LLC, 2007; page 27.
[2] Calflora Taxon Report 5447: Mentzelia veatchiana Kellogg:
[3] Global Species: Mentzelia veatchiana (Veatch's blazingstar; whitestem blazingstar; whitestem stickleaf) [].

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hiking through Jack's Valley Habitat

The Jack's Valley Habitat Management Area in Nevada, located northwest of Jack's Valley Elementary School (seen in the middle of the picture to the right of the rock), is a combination of a sagebrush ecosystem and rock outcrops. This area is open to off-highway vehicle use from May to October and reserved for hikers and mule deer herds in winter. The end of April is typically a good time to see and smell blooming desert peach. The habitat also is a temporary home to migrating birds.

This recreational area includes sand and gravel trails. The lower section has broad trails for ATVs to pass through. Higher elevations feature rock outcrops, like the one shown in the picture, and areas of open pine forest. These sites can be accessed on a single-track trail, in parts marked by little pyramids of piled stones. The trail is often steep and strenuous, since one has to walk upward over loose soil and crumbled rocks. From the upper hillsides and the top, one can trace the Sierra Nevada Frontal Fault Zone and view the Carson Valley and the Carson Mountain Range on the east and west side of the fault line, respectively. And by browsing the air space, one may be lucky and spot red-tailed hawks and golden eagles.

Getting there, staying there
The habitat is located south of Carson City, between Highway 50 and Jack's Valley Road. For further descriptions see Getting to and around in Jack's Valley Habitat.