FLCC Member's Petroglyph Tour Information
The rock art you will see is part of what is arguably the largest concentration within the Western Hemisphere, and can number 6000 images just in this small canyon area of 1.5 miles alone. Though an accurate dating technique is still being sought, it is thought that certain petroglyphs date as much as 16,000 years old, with others made as recently as 1800. This rock art is so important to our cultural heritage and our knowledge of the desert's past that in 1964 the sites were listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Now everything in the canyon area is fully protected, including the petroglyphs, obsidian chips, and any artifacts or tools, as well as native vegetation and wildlife. Federal and State laws and NAWS regulations protect this area. The rock on which the petroglyphs were carved and the fragile desert varnish are easily damaged. Sand on boot soles, camera tripods, and walking sticks can damage the designs. Photography or sketching the petroglyphs is encouraged, but you are not allowed to mark your own design on these rocks. Outlining the designs with chalk or applying any material to the rocks is prohibited here as at all rock art sites. You will notice a small amount of vandalism, which is regrettable, and today certainly punishable by authorities.
Driving to the parking area at the head of Little Petroglyph Canyon is approximately 45 miles from the main gate of NAWS. About 5 miles of this trip will be over graded dirt roads. A full tank of gas is needed and required before we set out for our trip. All our cars, including the tour escorts, will be searched at the main gate of the base. No alcohol, firearms, or glass bottles are allowed on the tour. No cabover campers or motor homes are allowed on a petroglyph tour. Tour groups are limited to 20 people with a maximum of seven vehicles, two of which are for escorts leading and trailing. Solo visitors will need to use available seating, which we'll arrange at the time of the tour. Some seats are usually available with tour escorts, and they also offer commentary through the trip too. The trip can be made in a passenger car with 8 to 10 inches clearance. Large vehicles such as busses and motor homes are not allowed. We will pass though historic areas of the base itself, and proceed across the saline China Lake area. Located mid-range is Mountain Springs Canyon, which we'll use to drive up and access Wild Horse Mesa and Etcheron Valley. Mountain Springs Canyon has year-round springs, and abundant wildlife, so our trip will be cautious and slow. Also this area has historic mining sites which will be visible from our vehicles. Wild horses and burros are frequently seen within the canyon and upon the mesas. Coyotes, mountain lion, bobcat, fox, chuckar and quail are all prevalent in the area as well as reptiles and insects.
The petroglyph area is above 5,000 feet elevation, so dressing in layers is advised. The day may be chilly, windy, hot, or mild, and sometimes all in the same day. Stout, comfortable footwear is a must. You will be walking in a sandy, rocky wash, and if you hike the canyon to its end and back, you will walk about three miles. Some rock scrambling is required; we'll have to use hands and feet to traverse over some boulders to continue all the way down the Petroglyph canyon, though the tour can see plenty of petroglyphs without climbing through these areas. Groups can be split within the canyon to allow the younger more sure-footed to continue on if sufficient escorts are available within the tour. Please be realistic about your physical ability when deciding upon this tour, should you require special needs or a limited tour distance make this information known to the Tour Coordinator, and we will do our best to accommodate you. Tour takers must also be at least 10 years of age or in the fourth grade. A hat, dark glasses and sunscreen will add to your comfort. Even in warm weather a long sleeved shirt and pants are advised to screen the sun and help avoid dehydration. You must carry your own water; there is not water available at the parking site or in the canyon. A knapsack for camera equipment, plenty of water, food and supplies is recommended. Toilet facilities are primitive and only available at the parking area. Petroglyph concentrations begin within 300 feet of the parking area, after walking over a sandy area and down a 20 degree or so incline, and over a number of small and larger rocks you must scramble over. Dependant upon the desires of your tour group, the tour will stop within the canyon for lunch, and we will carry out all our trash. We will not walk or hike upon the canyon sides, and only traverse the canyon bottom. Even so, you'll see the rocks on the canyon bottom can have petroglyphs upon them, and your guide will help keep our impact on the area to a minimum. Your tour guide and escorts will familiarize you with camera protocol (no pictures of base installation while driving), and tour procedures before the tour departs and enters the Navy base.
Safety is a primary concern for us, and the Navy base upon which we'll be traveling, While at the parking area, its associated picnic area, and while hiking in the canyon you are urged to watch where you put your hands and feet. The high Mojave desert is host to venomous snakes, scorpions and spiders, so care must be observed.
All trips to the petroglyphs are conducted by certified tour escorts. These escorts are volunteers contributing their time so that you may see and enjoy the rock art of Little Petroglyph Canyon. Neither your escort, Friends of Last Chance Canyon, nor the Commanding Officer of NAWS China Lake is responsible for injury, death, or property damage on or resulting from sponsored tours.
Petroglyphs within the Navy base are well protected thanks to the access restrictions that are in place at a military base. Along with the protection comes an established process which tour takers must abide by. These restrictions are in place to protect the base and its commitment to supporting our Warfighters, so this is serious business and travel onto the base should not be taken lightly. Tours can be canceled at any time by the Navy, as their schedules for testing and support are driven by circumstances beyond their control. Tours are not allowed on base if road conditions are deemed dangerous or too difficult for passage, such as after a heavy rainfall and the roads and canyon are filled with knee-deep mud. The tour taker should contact the Tour Coordinator during the last week and the night before traveling into our area, making sure there are no cancellations or changes. All tour takers are required to be US citizens, and have 2 photo IDs when entering the base. The Navy requires date of birth, social security number, place of birth, and full name at least 2 weeks prior to the tour date (FLCC will submit your paperwork after gathering the information over the phone to protect your privacy). FLCC petroglyph tours are for members only. Membership in FLCC costs $25 per person. As a member you will receive quarterly updates on the organization, members Pot Luck dinners, gold panning and desert mining information and participation in FLCC petroglyph tours. FLCC will reserve for its members select dates with the Navy for the best times of the year.
The general public can request from the Navy's Public Affairs Office (PAO) a free public tour. The same travel and tour restrictions will apply, however. The tour taker must set up all the tour paperwork required, find and arrange tour escorts, etc. Details are available from the Navy's PAO, which can be contacted at NAVAIR, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Code 750000D, 1 Administration Circle, China Lake, CA 93555-6100, (760) 939-1683. E-mails should be addressed to Peggy Shoaf at Peggy.Shoaf@navy.mil