Rock Art in the Owyhee

Native Americans traversed the Owyhee Canyonlands regularly, leaving reminders in stone. Petroglyphs, which are images carved into rocks, abound in the Owyhee country. Here, Eugene, Oregon-based rock art enthusiast Douglas Beauchamp shares some of his thoughts on and images of area petroglyphs.

The truly wild-and-scenic Owyhee River winds north through the southern heart of the Malheur County in the southeast corner of Oregon, east of the Steens, the Trout Creek, and Oregon Canyon mountain ranges, until its impoundment as Lake Owyhee just shy of its confluence with the Snake River at today’s Idaho border.
The watery series of confluences and “tortuous” turnings carving through volcanic uplands reflect the Owyhee River’s compelling pathway in use by animals and peoples for thousands of years. The petroglyphs, always near water, reflect in part the rich sequences of cultures of the peoples who traversed this terrain for millennia.

One of most extensive sites in the Owyhee is not a single site or discrete place; rather it extends with varying degrees of concentration along the river for a number of miles. Time flows through here. Since the end of the last Ice Age in Oregon’s Northern Great Basin, 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, animals, plants and peoples have been affected by oscillating changes in rain, airflow, heat and cold. Another variable: volcanic and other geologic activity.

The darkly patinaed markings on this boulder are thousands of years old, likely 6,000 years of more. The more recent bright symbol is more recent, perhaps created in the last 500 to 2,000 years. The boulder is near the Owyhee River, which this year is significantly below its historic average flow. With global warming, how will the life of this canyon, the presence of this boulder, change in the next few centuries, in future millennia?

— Douglas Beauchamp

Follow Douglas Beauchamp’s blog, Rock Art Oregon, HERE.