The quest began when I was browsing Facebook for hikes in or near the Arizona’s White Mountains when I noticed a picture that someone eagerly posted on their homepage.
Magnificent, vivid petroglyphs carved into dense lava rock glowed on my computer screen. It was thrilling to know its location was essentially in my backyard.
Clearly, the impeccable drawings had snubbed the elements for thousands of years as the bright sketches contrasted with the dark basalt rock.
After inquiring about the location, I was denied.
“In order to protect [the petroglyphs] we are not disclosing the trail,” wrote one Trails member.
This irritated me. Why entice people with a picture?
I had been to numerous public petroglyph sites in the past and never noticed the defacement that was supposed to occur once the location was released.
In my experience, petroglyphs are communal, publicly available and seem to do thrive in other places. While the intentions of the White Mountain trail members may be noble, I felt they were an impediment to the enlightenment process of others.
I did some research but found little. I acquired GPS coordinates off several pictures on the internet to find its location but my efforts led to nothing.
The only useful evidence dug up was the general location of the drawings, which included the entire west side of the massive Show Low bluff.
I had no choice but to scan the bluff on foot, starting on Show Low Bluff Trail.
It took three days to locate the sketches thanks to a motivated husband.
We looked for signs of faint trails that led to nowhere. We created trails that led to nowhere.
Mold growing on the side of rocks was often mistaken for early illustrations.
“I see them,” one of us would occasionally yell down the bluff to each other followed by excitement and a “Nevermind.”
Cactus was camouflaged by thick forest brush and falling meant possible injury.
Finding the petroglyphs became a meditation and time vanished within the hunt. I was desperate.
Remnants of pithouses remained in the form of rocks stacked in methodical formations with nearby perches that overlooked an open meadow 100 feet above. Below, scrawny Show Low Creek once drowned the pasture as a great river.
Giant sacred Native American faces with powerful jawlines lined the top of the rim in a type of amphitheater.
Show Low Bluff Trail was close in proximity so once in a while hikers could be heard in the distance.
The west ridge had been scanned thoroughly over three days with no luck of finding anything except a faint symbol on a huge rock that sloped on top.
We walked off the trail at the end of Show Low Bluff loop and headed south for perhaps ten minutes. Our unmarked path led to a barbed-wire fence that had been flattened, leading to the south-facing bluff.
From the top of the flat-top bluff, we hiked down.
As we approached the bottom, my husband went ahead and climbed up, leaving my son and I below.
As I peeked in and out of crevasses I heard “I found them” from the top of the bluff.
My son and I rejoiced in between lava boulders and the shade of a giant oak tree.
We scurried on loose dirt to the top to hear half way up “Ah, it’s just mold.”
Disappointment followed but quickly vanished as I turned the corner to see a galley of drawings and my not-so-amusing husband with a huge grin on his face.
A failed real estate development, Show Low Bluffs, has built a handful of homes and leveled out nearly 1500 acres with asphalt and land plots near the cultural artifacts.
Approximately 1,000 petroglyphs can be found in various places in Heritage Park which is owned by the Show Low Bluff development and considered private property.
The majority of these petroglyphs are Ancestral Pueblo and date between 500 and 1400 AD.