- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

LAKEVIEW, Ore. (AP) - Viewing Southeastern Oregon’s petroglyphs is like stepping into a pre-history rock art gallery.

According to Douglas Beauchamp, an art administrator who has been studying and photographing petroglyphs for 15 years, Southeastern Oregon has thousands of petroglyphs spread throughout dozens, if not hundreds, of sites.

“It’s an intensely rich site for wildlife, light and petroglyphs,” Beauchamp said. “It’s one of the richest areas in North America.”

Lake County’s petroglyphs - petro, meaning stone or rock, and glyph, meaning to carve - are an array of dot patterns, geometric shapes, and animal-like characters commonly carved into basalt, a volcanic rock that dominates the region. Some carvings are isolated, while others span entire rock wall faces. Controversy still stirs around whether they relate to religious ceremonies, are works of art or just random doodles.

“There are all sorts of interpretations that have been thrown out there,” Eric Ritter, an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management Field Office in Redding, said. “All we can say for sure is that it’s related to a certain time period.”

Much of the land known for rock art is east of Lakeview at the Hart-Warner High Lakes, a stretch of lakes and wetlands that are capped to the north and south by the Oregon-Nevada Hart Mountain and Sheldon National Antelope Refuge complex.

According to Beauchamp, many of the most notable sites are found between Highway 140 and Hart Mountain refuge along a 30-mile swath managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Petroglyph Lake rests at the top.

“Petroglyph Lake has easy access to take a look at some really fine petroglyphs. You can easily drive pretty close and walk in,” he said. “It’s very rewarding because it’s a beautiful view as well.”

Another popular site, Animal Outlook, also is on the southern fringe of Hart Mountain refuge. Beauchamp said Warner and Hart Mountain can be seen from Animal Outlook.

“One of the thrilling things about sites like that, it’s quite a remarkable feeling to look at those cliffs, look at those carvings, and look out across the landscape,” he said.

Southeastern Oregon’s most famous site, Long Lake, is at the end of a 10-mile dirt road that splices north from Highway 140.

According to Ritter, ash layers deposited from the Mount Mazama eruption have helped researchers date the Long Lake petroglyphs at more than 6,500 years old. Evidence near other petroglyphs indicate some might date back to 10,000 years, and some believe Oregon’s rock art dates as far back as 14,000 years. Ritter said Northern Paiute tribes are known to have inhabited Southeastern Oregon at that time.

Beauchamp said most of the older petroglyphs he has observed were created using a rock hammer stone method, similar to chiseling. He said the two main petroglyph methods he has observed in Southeastern Oregon are patterns made from a series of pecks, or divots in the rock, and abrading - scraping - the rock with a hard stone.

“True carving is pretty rare unless it’s a soft stone,” Beauchamp said.

Ritter said years of erosion and invasions of microorganisms have changed the images petroglyph creators may have seen or intended others to see. He noted that rocks are a “living surface,” that are vulnerable to any number of influences, from cracking in the summer sun to seeds later germinating in those cracks - and as the designs get older, they become more obscure.

Beauchamp isn’t shy about the vague site descriptions he provides. Discussions about whether to disclose petroglyph sites or to keep them open to the public are ongoing even today, he noted. For those who are interested in visiting petroglyph sites, he suggested reaching out to someone with knowledge of the area or a specific site, and research, research, research.

Beauchamp said site access roads are typically rough, and visitors should have a good vehicle, maps, plenty of supplies and an emergency plan that doesn’t include using a cellphone.

“If you love the landscape and you love the hiking, and just the joy of that, it’s absolutely worth it,” Beauchamp said.

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Information from: Herald and News, https://www.heraldandnews.com

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