Court of Antiquity near Sparks is an unexpected delight
Travelers on Interstate 80 heading east of Sparks have no idea what’s located about two miles from the Vista Boulevard exit.
They have no idea with good reason. No one would think that wedged between the vehicles racing more than 70 mph on the Interstate and the Truckee River is a rock platform containing prehistoric petroglyphs.
Known as the Court of Antiquity, allegedly because Native American people once met there in council, the site is an historic treasure that, while not in the best of conditions, has no doubt survived because it’s so difficult to reach.
From Sparks, the best way to get to the Court of Antiquity is by traveling about three miles to a sharp turnout on the right of the Interstate (it appears to be an abandoned rest stop or road). After parking, you must walk west for nearly a mile to reach the site.
A few words of advice: Cars on the Interstate are going fast. Really fast. Remember to signal well ahead of time before attempting to turn off to avoid any accidents. Additionally, the site is on a bench adjacent to a steep drop off, just above the river, so walk carefully.
In 2011, Washoe County officials actually hired an architectural firm to develop a plan for a public park at the site (the plan can be found online), but since then there has been no effort to preserve the site or make it more available to the public for unknown reasons.
According to the plan, a gravel road leading to a parking area would be developed from the east of the site, which literally sits on a cliff above the river. One trail would lead to a seating area offering a view of the rock art with interpretive signage while another would lead to an overlook of the river with more interpretive signs.
Today when you view the site, the experience is both inspiring and kind of depressing. Inspiring because the petroglyphs, while worn by the elements and the effects of time, can still be viewed; depressing because the site is littered with garbage tossed from passing cars or left by people who appear to have visited and/or camped in the area.
Physically, the site consists of a flat rock platform or floor on which several petroglyphs, which are prehistoric rock writing, have been carved. Surrounding the rock floor are 2- to 3-foot stone walls on which more petroglyphs are carved.
The images, which might be thousands of years old, include squiggly lines and shapes, round shapes with centipede-like legs, something resembling a paw print, and other interesting drawings.
According to most historians, rock art like that found at the court should be viewed as a system of communication but not writing. Since little is known about those who created it, the exact meaning of the symbols and images is not known.
Since the site isn’t easy to reach at the present time, one of the best ways to view it is Howard Goldbaum’s 3D imagery found at https://allaroundnevada.com/court-of-antiquity/.
Goldbaum, who is a recently retired University of Nevada, Reno journalism professor, has created a phenomenal tool for getting a true sense of the place without having to go there. Prompts on the images allow you to view them from afar as well as close up and allow excellent views of many of the symbols carved in the rock walls and surfaces.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.