The Coso petroglyphs

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In the canyons and plateaus of the Coso Mountains are thousands of petroglyphs carved into basalt rocks left by the hunter-gatherers who lived in California in more or less ancient times (by the standards of the USA).

This is the largest known concentration of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere. Alas, it is located on the Naval Air Weapons Station of China Lake, a limited-access area. Public access is permitted only to the petroglyphs that are located in lower Renegade Canyon ("Little Petroglyph Canyon").

The Maturango museum in Ridgecrest organizes tours or contact the China Lake Public Affairs office 760-939-1683 for free visits but you must be a US citizen because this area is on a military base, it takes the whole day and requires a military escort. See below for details.

This is updated to 2014. First of all you have to print and fill these two forms: Attached below are the other documents that they send you (as of 2014).



Public Affairs

1 Administration Circle, STOP 1014

China Lake, CA 93555-6100




Doís & Doníts On Petroglyph Tours


These guidelines have been provided in an effort to protect your safety, maintain compliance with security requirements and to protect the cultural resources found in Little Petroglyph Canyon, which is a National Historic Landmark.Please do your part in protecting this part of our heritage.


1. Enjoy your visit to Little Petroglyph Canyon.

2. Follow the directions provided by your tour guide at all times.

3. Wear shoes in good condition with soles that grip well.Open toe shoes are NOT allowed.Wear a hat and sunglasses.Use sunblock.Take adequate water and avoid dehydration.

4. Be realistic about your physical ability and avoid exceeding your capability.The canyon is rough terrain.If you are injured and an air rescue is required, you will be responsible for any costs.

5. Stay with the caravan on the way to and from the canyon.NO detours or unplanned stops are allowed.

6. Obey all traffic laws.

7. Stay on the designated route and remain on established roadways at all times.

8. Keep your cameras and binoculars locked up until you reach your designated destination.

9.This is a 90-mile round trip.Make sure you have enough fuel.

10.Because of the tough roads, if your car has very little clearance, or if your car tends to overheat, we suggest carpooling with someone.

11. If a car breaks down, pull clear of the roadway and leave it there with a note stating why the car is there, the ownerís name and address and that you are on a petroglyph tour.You will be put in another vehicle and the tour will continue.The lead escort will notify the China Lake Police Department by radio and CLPD will arrange to have the car towed back to Ridgecrest (at the ownerís expense).If a minor repair is all that is needed (flat tire, for example), the tour group will stop while the driver makes repairs.

12. When arriving at the site, park off the road in the parking lot.

13. Stay with a command-approved escort at all times during your visit.To ensure the protection of the petroglyphs, fragmented groups without escorts are NOT allowed.

14. STAY IN THE CANYON OR PICNIC AREA.There is only one entrance/exit to the canyon.Stay off the rocks along the edges of the canyon.

15. Watch where you put your hands and feet.Snakes, scorpions and spiders are commonly observed in this area.



1. Donít use your binoculars or cameras until reaching your designated destination. Cellular phone use is prohibited except in the event of an emergency.

2. Donít detour from the caravan on the way to or from Little Petroglyph Canyon.

3. The use of CBís and ham radios or any other transmitters are prohibited unless you have prior permission.Cellular phones may be used only when necessary.

4.Pets, alcohol and firearms are prohibited ó even if you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

5.Donít bring any glass containers into the canyon.

6.Donít wander from your tour guide during your visit to Little Petroglyph Canyon.

7.Donít leave the canyon and go up on the rim for any reason.Walking on any of the ledges is prohibited ó for safety reasons as well as protection of the petroglyphs.

8. Donít climb on, write on or trace the petroglyphs.Rubbings are not allowed.Use your camera to record what you see.Donít climb on rocks to get that ďperfectĒ picture.

9.Donít pick up anything in the area except litter.

10. If you happen to see ordnance (pieces of weapons, missiles, strange bits of wire or bits of metal), donít touch it.Note its location and inform the tour guide.

11.Donít disturb any of the wildlife or plant life.

12.Do not smoke in the canyon.

13. Donít disturb any brass plates or survey markers.







From:†† ††††††††††† Peggy A. Shoaf, NAWS Public Affairs


So, you are thinking about taking a petroglyph tour.I have enclosed the petroglyph tour fact sheet to help answer many of your questions about taking a tour.Please read it in its entirety.


First of all, you can decide on a public tour.Public tours consist of 20 visitors joining together.They can be local residents, visitors to the area, or people from out of town who specifically came to Ridgecrest to see Little Petroglyph Canyon.All the work in coordinating and conducting a public tour is done by a non-profit organization.Currently, we have two organizations offering public tours Ė the Maturango Museum, (760) 375-6900, and the Friends of Last Chance Canyon, (760) 377-4121.


Or, you can decide on a private tour.If this is your choice, you have to decide if you want to do the work to coordinate the tour yourself, or if you would like to have a private organization coordinate the tour for a fee.Both the Maturango Museum and Friends of Last Chance Canyon can assist in coordinating a private tour.There must be at least six people in the group for the museum to agree to coordinate and conduct the private tour.


To coordinate a tour yourself, which can consist of 1 to 20 people, you first need to call the NAWS Public Affairs Office at (760) 939-1683 and select a date for the tour.Tours are held on weekends and holidays.Certain Fridays are available for school tours.All tours can be cancelled on short notice due to military testing, security concerns, or the weather.You will also need two command-approved petroglyph tour escorts to act as your guides during the tour.Additional guides may be required, depending on the size and make up of the tour.


Command-approved escorts are guides who have received special training in environmental, security, and administrative issues related to petroglyph tours.A copy of the Public Distribution List for Command-Approved Petroglyph Escorts will be sent to you once a date has been selected and approved.Please remember these escorts are volunteers and do not get paid for escorting the public to this National Historical Landmark.It is up to them whether they do a tour or not.


Non-United States citizens are not allowed on tours at this time.


Once you have the date and the command-approved tour escorts lined up, you need to fill out the enclosed Recreation/Range Access Application.The Requesting Organization would be ďPrivate.ĒThe Point of Contact is you. Please list the names of your escorts.Then fill in the Date of Tour and planned Departure Time.The Purpose should be ďTo Visit Little Petroglyph Canyon,Ē and the Route would be ďMountain Springs Gate.ĒYou also need to fill out the maximum number of vehicles you plan on using and the number of people on the tour (not counting the escorts).The maximum number of vehicles is seven (7), two of which will belong to the escorts, and the maximum number of people is 20, not counting the escorts.You do NOT need to fill in the vehicle information at this time.We also need to know the departure time -- the time you estimate you will get to the front gate for the vehicle search.


On the back of the form, please fill out the information for all the people taking part in your tour (except escorts).We do not need SSNs on this form.


In addition, anyone who is not affiliated with the base (who isnít a Department of Defense civilian, military, retired military, or military dependent) must fill out and initial where appropriate and sign the enclosed SECNAV 5512 form.Social Security Numbers are required on this form at this time.You can put N/A in the employment information.


The completed Recreation/Range Access Application and SECNAV 5512 forms must be turned in as a packet at least 14 working days before the planned tour.Some people are very reluctant to turn their privacy information in to the person setting up the tour.They can send me their paperwork directly, (760) 939-2796, provided they put ďPetroglyph Tour, sponsored by. . . (person setting up the petroglyph tour) and the date of the tour on top of the form.If I canít tell what trip the form goes to, I will shred it and not process it.


If you have access to the base, the packet can be dropped off in Room 108 in the Headquarters Building.If you donít have access to the base, please mail the form to Commanding Officer, NAWS Public Affairs, 1 Administration Circle STOP 1014, China Lake, CA 93555-6100; or fax the paperwork to me (both sides) at (760) 939-2796.If mailing, please provide enough time for the packet to go through the mail.I need it 14 working days in advance.Please call to verify I have received the application.Once I receive the paperwork, additions or substitutions of the visitors will not be allowed.


A Doís & Doníts Fact Sheet is also enclosed.Please be sure all your visitors are informed on what is and isnít allowed.A ďRelease of Liability FormĒ will be required to be signed by all participants the day of the tour.


During all tours, the tour escorts are in charge.They have the authority to cancel any tour if the guidelines are not being followed.You will need to work with them on deciding when and where to meet the day of the tour.They will be responsible for picking up the approved Recreation Application and finishing filling out the request Vehicle Information the day of the tour.


I hope the enclosed information and this letter answer all your questions.If not, please feel free to ask your escorts any questions or have, or call the Public Affairs Office at (760) 939-1683.




Peggy A. Shoaf

NAWS Public Affairs




Petroglyph tours




The rock art in Little Petroglyph Canyon is so important to our cultural heritage and knowledge of the desertís past that in 1964 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.Everything in the canyon area is fully protected, including the obsidian chips and any artifacts or tools, as well as the petroglyphs and nativevegetation andwildlife.††† Federal and Californialaws, along withNAWS regulations, helpprotect this area.Some of these regulations include:

1.Follow the directions provided by the tour guides at all times.

2.Children under 10, unless they are in the fourth grade, are not allowed on tours.For safety reasons, infants are also not allowed on tours.

3.Donít walk on the rocks lining the canyon walls.Sand on shoe soles, camera tripods and walking sticks can damage the designs.Stay on the canyonís bottom.

4.Photograph or sketch a picture of the rock art.DONíT make your own.Donít touch the rock art.It is unknown what future damage from the hand may cause to the varnish covering the image.Outlining the designs with chalk or applying any material to the rocks is prohibited.Do not try to make marks on the rocks in the canyon, even if they donít contain any images.This is still vandalism and subject to prosecution.

5.Large vehicles, like RVs and cab-over campers, are not allowed.

6.Pets, alcohol, and glass containers are prohibited.Firearms are also prohibited, even if you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.



To protect the security of the military installation, the following regulations are in place:

1.Recreational tours will normally be limited to up to 20 people, with a maximum of seven vehicles (two of which must be escort vehicles).

2.Non-U.S. citizens are not allowed on tours at this time.

3.Visitors will be required to provide their full name, Social Security Number, date and place of birth.

4.Additions or substitutions to the list of visitors are prohibited once the Recreational Access application has been turned in.

5.Upon entering the Station, all visitors 16 years of age and older will be required to show a picture ID.Proof of citizenship may also be required. Proof can include a copy of a birth certificate, naturalization papers, U.S. voter registration card, a current U.S. passport, or a U.S. Military Active Duty ID card.

6.All vehicles and belongings will be subject to search prior to entering the base.

7.Visitors must stay with the caravan at all times.Detours and unplanned stops are not allowed.

8.Cameras and binoculars must be kept locked up until reaching the canyonís parking lot.

9.Violation of any of the tour rules could result in the entire tour being cancelled.



The safety of visitors on board NAWS China Lake is a primary concern.

While in the parking lot, picnic area or in the canyon, visitors are urged to watch where they put their hands and feet.This is the high desert and snakes, scorpions and spiders are commonly observed in the area.

Obey all speed laws.The road coming down Mountain Springs is very steep.As with any mountain driving, it is recommended you use your lower gears when coming down.Donít ride the brakes.

While driving, be on the lookout for wild animals darting out in front of you.This area is teeming with wildlife, including feral horses.

While at Little Petroglyph Canyon, stay off the side of the canyon.



After the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, security concerns resulted in the cancellation of all petroglyph tours.While security is still a number one priority, NAWS houses one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in North America.Therefore, with security in mind, the Commanding Officer of NAWS has adopted a new policy to allow limited tours to the public.

All tours will be conducted with a minimum of two Command-approved escorts. These escorts are volun-teers contributing their time so you may see and enjoy the rock art of Little Petroglyph Canyon.Interested parties can join a public tour through a non-profit organization that has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with NAWS to provide assistance with coordinating and/or conducting tours, or arrange for a private tour.Public tours can be arranged by calling the Maturango Museum at (760) 375-6900 or Friends of the Last Chance Canyon at (760) 377-4121. Or, you can arrange for a private tour by calling the NAWS Public Affairs Office at (760) 939-1683.The Public Affairs representative will be happy to mail you a package explaining your tour options and how to set up your own tour.

Please be realistic about your physical ability when deciding to go on a tour.The terrain is rough.If you do have physical limitations, be sure to let the person arranging or escorting the tour to know in advance.

Neither your escort, the organization coordinating the tour, nor the NAWS China Lake Commanding Officer is responsible for injury, death, or property damage on or resulting from a tour.



Tours can be cancelled at a momentís notice due to inclement weather, increased security conditions, or Navy mission requirements.



Call 760.939.1683 for more information about petroglyph tours, or e-mail














Distribution Statement A:Approved for Public Release, Distribution Unlimited Ė Peggy Shoaf, NAWS Public Affairs Office, 3.21.11