Mojave River Valley Museum
Parks & Preserves
Red Rock Canyon NCA
The Red Rock Canyon NCA provides scenic and recreational opportunities for hundreds of people each
day. Modern visitors are drawn to the Red Rock Canyon NCA for the recreational change of pace and
beautiful scenery it has to offer. But, the area has been utilized to meet man's needs for thousand of
years. It is an area rich in cultural resources. Cultural resources are anything that man has used, made
or altered. These resources tell a story of prehistoric Americans in a desert land. Over the thousands
of years of human activity, in southern Nevada, as many as six different Native American cultures may
have used the Red Rock Canyon NCA.
WHY WERE THEY HERE?
The key to the areas prehistory is water. In the desert areas surrounding Red Rock Canyon NCA and the
Spring Mountains water is scarce. However, the Red Rock Canyon NCA contains over 40 springs, as well
as many natural catchment basins (known as tanks or tinajas). With the presence of dependable water, plant
and animal life is richer and more concentrated than in the surrounding desert. The abundance of plant
and animal food sources made the Red Rock Canyon NCA very attractive to hunters and gatherers such as the
historical Southern Paiute and the much older Archaic, or Desert Culture Native Americans. These peoples
traveled in small mobile groups that ranged over large areas of land following the ripening of various
plant foods. Red Rock Canyon NCA was an important stop on their seasonal round.
Even the more settled agricultural groups such as the Patayan Culture, from the banks of the upper and
lower Colorado River near Hoover Dam, and the Anasazi either traded or traveled to Red Rock Canyon NCA
for its resources. Red Rock Canyon NCA is considerably higher in elevation than the river valley homelands
of these two groups. Because of the increased elevation, Red Rock Canyon NCA has several higher altitude
plant and animal types that would have been unavailable at the lower elevations.
HOW DO WE OBTAIN KNOWLEDGE OF EARLY NATIVE AMERICANS?
Since the Southern Paiutes were still in the area when the first non-Indians (Europeans) entered
southern Nevada, we have some written records of their presence and lifestyle here. For the most part,
however, all of our knowledge of ancient Native Americans comes from the cultural resources they left
behind. For example, we know that the Anasazi Indians either visited the Red Rock Canyon NCA or traded
with its residents because we have found pieces of broken pottery that can be identified as their type
of ceramics. Some pieces of pottery not only tell us who was in the area, but when they, were there.
Pottery decoration styles, clay color and manufacturing techniques change with periods of time and vary
from group to group. Even projectile points (arrowheads) can serve as time markers to archaeologists
familiar with the prehistory of the area. Since these resources are our only source of information on
American's prehistory, it is important to, preserve and protect them in their original location. But,
cultural resources are more than storehouses of information. They can also be part of a very important
and personal experience of Red Rock Canyon NCA. Seeing a projectile point where it was dropped or shot
hundreds or even thousands of years ago can provide the basis for a meaningful experience linking you
with a person who walked or hunted here long ago. If you choose to remove the point from its place,
not only have you broken the law and caused the loss of potential scientific knowledge, you have
denied others a similar experience. Any artifact loses almost all of its value when it is removed
from its original location. We have the responsibility to preserve and protect these resources.
Roasting pits are perhaps the most common cultural resource found in Red Rock Canyon NCA. Roasting pits
are circular areas of fire-cracked and whitened limestone. They can vary in size from ground level circles
five to six feet in diameter, to huge piles several yards high with large sloping sides. Roasting pits were
used to roast various foods such as agave hearts, desert tortoise and possibly other plant and animal foods.
The limestone was gathered, heated by the fire and then used to cook the foods. After prolonged heating, the
limestone was raked aside and replaced with new rocks. This process caused the circular ring of rocks to
grow with use. There are several roasting pits at the Willow Spring picnic area, including one of the largest,
in southern Nevada. The large pit is located at the base of the sandstone cliffs just behind and downhill
from the restrooms.
Rock art comes in two varieties, petroglyphs and pictographs. The difference between the two types is the
manner in which they were made. Petroglyphs were pecked into the surface of the rock. Pictographs were painted
on the rock. In Red Rock Canyon NCA a coating of dark "desert varnish" on lighter sandstone provides the
perfect medium for petroglyphs, which are the most common of the two types of rock art found at Red Rock
Canyon NCA. If you want to discover some petroglyphs firsthand, the Red Spring area has a wide variety of
different styles on the cliff face's and fallen boulders. Rock art is both enduring and fragile. It has lasted
hundreds of years, yet many panels have been recently defaced by graffiti. Climbing on panels can also damage
the art, as can attempts to embellish the petroglyphs for photographic purposes. These practices, are destructive
and should not be done.
OTHER CULTURAL RESOURCES
In the places where Native Americans who visited Red Rock Canyon NCA camped and lived, they left behind the tools
and trash of everyday living. Broken pots and stone tools are pieces of the puzzle that, when put together, tell
the story of ancient ways of life and human adaptation to the desert. If you see these cultural resources, enjoy
them, but please leave them to tell their story and to be appreciated by others.
THE CULTURAL CHRONOLOGY OF SOUTHERN NEVADA
Southern Paiute 900 A.D. to modern times
Patayan Culture 900 A.D. to early historic times in the 1800s
Anasazi 1 A.D. to 1150 A.D.
Pinto/Gypsum ( Archaic) 3,500 B.C. to 1A.D.
The above dates are approximate and subject to considerable debate. Some are likely to be modified as our
understanding of this region's prehistory increases. These dates are based on a number of techniques and
methods including references in early historic writings, radiocarbon dates, ceramic (pottery) cross dating
and comparisons with surrounding areas that have more established chronologies. Two other groups were present
in southern Nevada and probably utilized the Red Rock Canyon NCA, although no evidence of their presence has
yet been found.
San Dieguito 7,000 to 5,500 B.C.
Paleo-Indians (Tule Springs) 11,000 to 8,000 B.C.
The Southern Paiute
Historically, the largest population concentrations of Paiutes were along the Virgin and Muddy rivers; other Paiutes adapted to a more arid desert environment that centered on ...
Paiute & Shoshoni Culture
In general, tribal peoples historically occupied their lands in small, mobile social units of related families who traveled in regular patterns, establishing summer or winter camps in customary places with water supplies, often located ...
The Chemehuevi territory lay off the lower Colorado River north and west toward Death Valley and west to about the Providence Mountains. A less populated somewhat undefined strip stretched ...
Prehistoric Man in the Valley of Fire
The Southern Paiute visited this area until historic times. Their visits probably involved hunting, food gathering, and ...
People of the Eastern Mojave
Later, however, Ancestral Pueblo peoples abandoned their territory and were replaced by Shoshonean and Paiute peoples after about AD 1000. In addition, native peoples of ...
Pinto Culture in the Desert
As the Pleistocene Epoch drew to a close ten thousand years ago, and the rivers of glacial ice melted, people lived in an environment dramatically different from today ...
One evidence of Native Americans inhabiting the Mojave Desert is the rock art that can be found on cave walls, boulders and cliff faces. There are two kinds of rock art ...
How Indians Used Plants
In the desert, Indians found native plants and other natural objects that not only ensured their survival but also formed the foundation for much of their culture. ...