The Nevada Traveler: Native American prehistory found just outside of Sparks

Dozens of petroglyphs can be found on this large rock panel in Griffith Canyon, located near Sparks.

Dozens of petroglyphs can be found on this large rock panel in Griffith Canyon, located near Sparks.

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A place I had not learned of until recently that certainly piqued my interest is Griffith Canyon, located in the foothills north of Sparks and on the edge of Spanish Springs.
I had read the canyon was scenic, not too difficult to navigate and contained good examples of petroglyphs, which are prehistoric Native American rock carvings that are believed to be sacred and related to either hunting, fertility, or something else because no one knows what they mean.
I also was surprised I wasn’t aware of it because of its close proximity to Reno and Sparks.
So, off to Griffith Canyon I went on a recent Saturday morning. Following the instructions that I found on Google Maps, I drove to Nevada 445 (Pyramid Highway) in Sparks, then continued north about eight miles to Calle De La Plata road. I turned right on Calle La Plata, drove another 1.8 miles then turned right onto Valle Verde Drive.
I passed through a neighborhood of large ranch-style homes for a quarter-mile, then turned right onto Agua Fria Drive (continuing for a half mile). At El Molino Drive, I turned left and drove about a third of a mile on a dirt road that led to a pair of stone and white metal fences (like a gateway) that stand on each side of the road.
About a quarter mile downhill from the fencing, I found a wide spot in the road (to the right), where I decided to park. On the opposite side was a metal culvert and below was a gash in the mountains that I hoped would be Griffith Canyon.
At first, I wondered if I had found the correct place. But as I stood on the road looking down into the narrow canyon, a full-grown buck with large antlers suddenly appeared before me. I took it as a sign that this was the spot, and slowly climbed down the hill into a rocky, dry wash (wear sturdy shoes, like hiking boots because it’s easy to twist an ankle here).
The buck heard me and bounded up one of the sides of the canyon and disappeared. I continued into the canyon. A rough trail appeared occasionally and seemed to crisscross the creek bed, which was lined with pinion, sagebrush, wildflowers and grasses.
As I walked on, I saw the sides of the canyon became steeper with more rock walls — ideal spaces for petroglyphs. About a third of a mile into the hike, I encountered the first panels of rock writing to my left. Here, I could see jagged lines and patterns carved into the reddish rock wall.
A bit farther, and there were round shapes as well as a carving shaped like a stick with three prongs and stick figure-like images. At the bottom of the rock face, there is also an unusual carving that resembles a turtle.
I marched on for another half-mile, where, to my right, I found the greatest concentration of petroglyphs — several larger rock panels covered with carvings that resembled a bighorn sheep, various circles, lines and other patterns. In other places I could see more stick figures and other lines and shapes.
Standing in the middle of the wash and looking at the carvings, I had the feeling of being in a spiritual place. These images had been carved several thousand years ago for some unknown but no doubt important reason.
From the road to the larger panels is about three-quarters of a mile, making the entire hike, back and forth, a bit under two miles — and well worth the effort.
One thing to keep in mind is that the petroglyphs here are fragile, so be respectful. The canyon is best explored between April and November, and since there are only a few trees, make certain to dress appropriately for sun and bring water.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special. 


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