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Old Woman Cave Rock Art

Photographs of Chemehuevi rock art, eastern Mojave Desert, California.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

Old Woman Cave
is located on the eastern side of the massive Old Woman Mountains which dominate this part of the Mojave Desert, and is about 37 miles southwest of Needles, California.  Elevations here range between 800' at the lowest point to about 5300' at Old Woman Peak.  Temperature highs In the summer frequently reach 115F and winter lows dip into the 20s. Rainfall is only about 5-6 inches a year and a bit higher on the peaks. There are springs throughout the mountains that may have been more reliable in prehistoric times, but in modern times many have dried up and cannot be counted upon to provide potable water to thirsty travelers.  Old Woman Cave is about 10' long by 6' deep and is situated near the top of an exfoliating granite monolith at 3100' elevation. Archaeological evidence in the vicinity indicates use of this area over an extended period of time.

The Chemehuevi or as they call themselves, Nw, are the southern most group of the Southern Paiute. They occupied the largest land area in California, the Mojave Desert. Unfortunately this area is also the poorest in terms of food resources and habitability. Game was not plentiful, crops could not be easily cultivated and water sources were not dependable. Until recent times the Chemehuevi maintained a simple Hunter-Gather economy, lived in patriarchal bands, and moved frequently from one food & water resource to another. Bands claimed ownership to springs and ownership could be inherited by progeny. Although the Chemehuevi occupied the largest aboriginal territory their population was small, probably ranging prehistorically between 500-800 individuals. 

The petroglyphs and pictographs are combinations of geometric rectangular & circular shapes with some diamonds, triangles, parallel & wavy lines. Absent are depictions of anthropomorphs, bighorn sheep and other representational figures found elsewhere in the desert. Power for both male and female shaman came in dreams, usually from guardian spirits in animal form. These spirits would provide instructions and songs to cure illness and protect against malevolent shaman and ghost intrusion. Dreams could be obtained by spending the night alone in particular caves. The Chemehuevi 'dream' their creation myth (which is similar to the Mohave creation myth) and it is from this dream they acquire their power. Chemehuevi rock art, both petroglyphs and pictographs, symbolizes those dreams.

Old Woman Cave pictographs

Old Woman Mountains petroglyphs

It is a precarious climb up to Old Woman Cave which is situated near the top of a granite dome.

Petroglyphs around the dome are pecked into available dark stained areas of decomposing granite.

Chemehuevi rock art

eastern Mojave Desert petroglyphs

Grids in circles, parallel lines and various types of connected circles seem to be the dominant motif. 

Granite is not a receptive canvass for petroglyph artists
and their work is difficult to discern on the stone.

Old Woman Cave rock art

pictographs d-stretched

Black, red, orange and white pictographs can be
seen in the cave.

Color enhanced by Jon Harmon's D-Stretch program
the images can be better analyzed.

Chemehuevi Nv pictographs

Chemehuevi black & red pictographs

Black & red and white & orange pigments are used
together to create polychrome panels in the cave.

With digital coaxing some faded images begin to
appear to the right of this black & red panel.

Chemehuevi white & orange pictographs Mojave Desert rock art

Much of the pictograph imagery on this rock is
faded and difficult to see.

Superimposition of the pictographs indicates use of this cave over an extended period of time.

faded Chemehuevi pictograph Old Woman Cave
This panel is almost completely faded away... but, it is actually a complex panel of concentric 'U' shapes, decorated circles, fringing, parallel & crossed lines,
and tick marks.
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