Petroglyphs, Pictographs, and Geoglyphs in the Mojave Desert


The Mojave Desert, located in the southwestern United States, is rich in cultural and historical significance, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. Petroglyphs, pictographs, and geoglyphs are among the archaeological features found in the Mojave Desert, offering glimpses into the region’s past.

Here’s a brief overview of each:

  1. Petroglyphs:
    • Petroglyphs are rock engravings created by carving or pecking into the surface of a rock.
    • They are often found on exposed rock surfaces, such as canyon walls or large boulders.
    • Petroglyphs in the Mojave Desert can depict various symbols, animals, human figures, and abstract designs.
    • Native American communities made these carvings as a form of communication, storytelling, or spiritual expression.
  2. Pictographs:
    • Pictographs are rock art created by applying pigments to the surface of rocks. These pigments are usually composed of natural materials like plant extracts or mineral pigments.
    • Pictographs are found on rock shelters, caves, and cliff faces, often in areas with some protection from the elements.
    • Like petroglyphs, pictographs in the Mojave Desert can represent various subjects, including humans, animals, and symbolic patterns.
    • The pictograph colors can include red, black, white, and yellow, with red being a common choice.
  3. Geoglyphs:
    • Geoglyphs are large designs or motifs created on the ground’s surface, often by arranging stones or altering the landscape’s natural features.
    • While geoglyphs are more commonly associated with other regions like the Nazca Lines in Peru, there are examples of geoglyphs in the Mojave Desert as well.
    • The Blythe Intaglios, located in the lower Colorado River valley near Blythe, California, is a notable example of geoglyphs in the Mojave Desert. These large human and animal figures were created by scraping away dark rocks to reveal the lighter soil beneath.

Preservation of these cultural artifacts is crucial, and many sites are protected to prevent vandalism and degradation. Researchers and archaeologists work to study and document these features, shedding light on the history and practices of the indigenous peoples who lived in the Mojave Desert. It is important visitors respect and avoid disturbing these archaeological sites to ensure their preservation for future generations.

Serrano Indians

Communal grinding stone in San Bernardino Mountains

The Serrano are a Native American people who historically resided in the San Bernardino Mountains and the surrounding areas of Southern California, including the Mojave Desert. They are part of the larger Serrano branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. (also see Vanyume)

Here are some key points about the Serrano Indians:

  1. Language: The Serrano people traditionally spoke the Serrano language, a member of the Takic subgroup of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Like many Native American languages, the Serrano language is endangered, and there are limited fluent speakers today.
  2. Lifestyle and Subsistence: The Serrano were traditionally hunter-gatherers, relying on the region’s rich natural resources. They hunted game, gathered plants, and engaged in fishing. Acorns were a significant food source, and the Serrano developed various methods for processing and preparing acorns for consumption.
  3. Houses and Shelters: The Serrano traditionally lived in dome-shaped structures known as kish, which were constructed from a framework of willow branches covered with brush and reeds. These structures were well-suited to the climate of the region.
  4. Cultural Practices: The Serrano had a rich cultural and spiritual life, with ceremonies, rituals, and traditions that were closely tied to their environment. They believed in a variety of supernatural beings and spirits.
  5. Contact with Europeans: European contact with the Serrano people began with the arrival of Spanish explorers and missionaries in the late 18th century. Like many Native American groups, the Serrano experienced significant disruptions to their way of life due to the introduction of new diseases, cultural changes, and the influence of European settlers.
  6. Reservation: In the mid-19th century, as Euro-American settlers expanded into Southern California, the Serrano people faced displacement from their traditional lands. In the 20th century, some members of the Serrano Nation settled on the San Manuel Indian Reservation near Highland, California.
  7. Contemporary Issues: Today, the Serrano people, like many Native American communities, face challenges related to economic development, healthcare, education, and cultural preservation. Efforts have been made to revitalize cultural practices and traditions.

It’s important to note that the history and experiences of Native American tribes are diverse, and individual tribes have unique cultures, histories, and contemporary challenges.


The dream world was as important to the Mojave People as was the physical world. It was from this dream state instruction was given that would guide them to their destiny.

The Mojave Warrior was as brutal and violent in battle as his enemy. Even more so, not only because of strength and endurance but because those who had bad dreams; dreams of death and misfortune, were left behind in the villages with the women so as not to bring a curse to the war.

Among the small and dangerous bands were mixed the Kwanami.  They were the elite warrior captains.  The Kwanami were said to have dreamed of war and the death of their opponents in the womb before their birth.  Their dreams would be of ripping lion and bear creatures apart with bare hands and emerging from the dust victorious and unscathed.

The Kwanami lived apart from the rest of the Mohave People, in the south of the valley where Mastamho, the God-son, fought with the serpent under the three peaks.  It was here they would fast and meditate on the death of their opponents and the art of warfare.

These men who were stoic and impervious to heat, cold, hunger, and pain, would practice with their war bows and clubs in order to be the most effective in ministering death to their foes.