National Geographic : 1987 Jan
position as I was directed and soon found what Bannerman intended I should-my hands came to rest on slick depressions in the rock alongside my hips. Knowing what to look for, I now saw four such pairs of depres sions. They were bedrock metates. Centu ries ago, perhaps, Indian women had sat here grinding seeds. MONTHS LATER, on an August afternoon, I visited an older Indi an site. Four of us clambered down a slope of basalt boulders and out onto a dry wash at the bottom of upper Renegade Canyon. My companions, civilians working for the Navy's environmental branch at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, had brought me to a remarkable location in an area where more prehistoric rock art may be concentrat ed than in any other place in North America. I stood transfixed before a wall of dark gray basalt. Pecked into its uneven surface was a bewildering array of images: large deer and mountain sheep, geometric designs in the shapes of shields and atlatls, or spear throwing sticks, and human figures of different sorts. They were made by hunter-gatherers who apparently special ized in hunting mountain sheep. What held my gaze was complicated-the sheer number of drawings, the seeming freshness of some of them, etched as they were by the late afternoon light, and how undisturbed the area appeared to be. (The Navy restricts public entry to the site.) I don't think I ever felt the presence of history so acutely-a conservative estimate puts a date of about 1000 B.C. on the oldest of these drawings. At the southwestern end of the upper can yon, one of the archaeologists showed me an open-air site where these people had once camped. Here was evidence of their cooking fires, a waste midden, and the debitage of their stonework-myriad flakes of obsidian glass gleaming brilliantly in the setting sun. Here, too, were grinding slicks, bedrock me tates like the one I had seen near Snake Spring. And odd petroglyphs called cu pules-shallow holes the size of Concord grapes, pounded into the rock. The falling light made it necessary to turn back, but I was most reluctant to leave. I Signs of indifference: Trash piled neara request that visitors take it with them (left) was left by campers seemingly thumbing noses at authority. Vandalism includes shot-up road signs (below) and stolen cactus, ironwood, and potsherds. Infact, an estimated one percent of the archaeologicalartifacts disappearyearly. "People do things out here they'd never think of doing at home," a rangertold the author.BLM rangersare federal . officers who can ticket offenders. But the 12 million acres under their control overstretches the 21 rangers, who often work extra hours voluntarily. The BLM also mediates land-use questions. Desert districtmanagerGerry Hillier (right,in white shirt) meets with University of Californiarepresentatives, ranchers,and conservationiststo discuss balancing different interests on a nature reserve used by the university.