I am fascinated by pictographs and petroglyphs. Are they 10,000 year old graffiti or a sacred magical symbolic code, a treasure map, a historian’s guide book in storied stone?
In 1806, while on their historic journey across Montana, the Lewis and Clark Expedition encountered several signs of the first inhabitants of this great land. Pictographs and petroglyphs were inscribed on rock faces by the tribes that lived in this area as well as nomadic tribes that followed the bison herds across the Great Plains. From Clark’s Journal “. . .on the face of this rock the figures of animals”. To an archaeologist there is a distinct difference between pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are intricate designs painted on a hard surface, petroglyphs are chiseled or carved into the rock surface.
Cave walls and cliff faces bear witness to the travels, hunts and brave deeds of prehistoric hunters and their historic American Indian counterparts that inhabited the caves sporadically for a period of nearly 10,000 years. These early residents of Montana left behind a rich legacy of artifacts and painted images that many feel have magical significance; evocative and mystical, they fire our imagination and connect us with our past.
Distinctive remnants of the past can be viewed along the Sun River, the Smith River, in the Little Bear Mountains, the Lewis and Clark National Forest and in numerous other historic locations across Montana. Kila, Montana, near Kalispell is another site of exceptional renderings of warriors, buffalo and tribal culture. At Kila there are two sites with hundreds of images. Hellgate Canyon, a narrow passage from the Missoula Valley to the plains is an impressive viewing of Indian petroglyphs that grace the canyon walls. In neighboring northern Idaho, extensive storied stones are found on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.