This image of a lizard is one of the petroglyphs found at Grimes Point, an archaeological site located just east of Fallon.
Even after decades of study, no one is quite sure how to interpret the centuries-old Indian "petroglyphs" or rock writings that are found carved on stone surfaces throughout the west, including in many parts of Nevada.
Some of the best and most accessible petroglyphs can be found at Grimes Point Archaeological Area, about seven miles east of Fallon on Highway 50.
Visitors to Grimes Point will find an interpretive trail that winds for about a mile through a small forest of about 150 carved boulders and rocks. Petroglyphs in the area date back nearly 8,000 years and contain a variety of styles, reflecting different eras.
A series of informative signs point out theories about the writings and the different types of symbols. For instance, the oldest petroglyphs are believed to be the simplest, a "pit and groove" pattern on several boulders.
However, on the more recent etchings, the prehistoric Native American artists who scratched these designs carved more elaborate images, such as deer, lizards and the sun. Regarding the latter, visitors should be sure to look for one particular boulder that was carved with the detailed image of a lizard.
Archaeologists also have found bits of bone and shell discarded from a meal as well as a stone scrapper (which could have been used to skin a small animal) and pieces of tule matting, which is bedding constructed using hand-woven tule reeds.
According to one of the interpretive signs, while some historians believe the writing has religious significance (representing a ritual asking the creator for a good hunt or harvest), other experts say they are simply prehistoric rock graffiti.
In many places, the symbols really stand out because the carved images are a lighter color than the rest of the rock surface. Throughout the decades, however, the contrast will become much less as the exposed, carved scars will “patinate” or take on a darker patina or sheen as a result of chemical changes in the rocks over time.
Grimes Point does have an interesting vibe. There is something magical about wandering through the field of boulders and being in the presence of things that are so ancient yet indecipherable.
Because of the relative isolation, you walk on dusty trails surrounded by silence shattered only by the passing of an occasional car or truck and the sound of your own breathing. In the afternoon summer heat, it becomes easy to imagine someone sitting in the shade of one of the boulders and chipping a picture into the rock that represents the hot sun or the previous day's hunt — or who knows?
Unfortunately, the site’s easy accessibility — it’s located adjacent to U.S. 50 —also has been a bit of a curse. Over the years, the site has been damaged by vandals and used as a garbage dump.
In recent decades, however, the Bureau of Land Management has developed protections for the site and focused on educating the public about the importance of preserving and respecting these types of resources.
Guided tours of the site, as well as of nearby Hidden Cave, are available through the Churchill County Museum in Fallon. For tour information, go to www.ccmuseum.org/hidden-cave-tours/.