Ancient Desert Figures – The Blythe Intaglios, CA
I was more excited than a two year old on sugar syrup. Granted I get easily excited, especially about ancient and obscure stuff, but this was impressive even for me. When we were visiting our buddies in Cibola last week Murlene told me about some crazy, ancient stick figures in the middle of the AZ desert just north of Blythe, CA, and….I….was….gripped.
I have nothing against Blythe, per se, but it doesn’t really ring the bells of historical findings for me. It’s your typical dusty middle-sized desert town, a mix of newer and run-down buildings (with a fair few iffy characters) amidst the general sprawl of a few big box stores backed by an admittedly slightly better-than-usual grocery store. It draws the ATV & boating types (for the Colorado River), and has a rather large farming community (the Colorado River, again), but it’s not exactly a “happening” place and I’d never been particularly attracted to it.
But this…now this was something cool!
Ever since my youth I’ve been fascinated by the lines of Nazca in Peru. Known as anthropomorphic geoglyphs they are shallow lines made in the ground by removing the darker surface pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath. This ancient desert floor graffiti lay undiscovered for thousands of years partially because it was so remote, and partially because the figures are only properly observed from ABOVE. It took until the 1920’s for them to be “discovered” and for modern man to realize their amazingness (you know the word makes sense…just go with it). Paul and I went to Peru with family several years ago, but I never made it down to see the lines.
I knew there were geoglyphs in other places, but I had no idea the most famous North American geoglyphs were in Blythe?
Once the impact of this discovery had sunk in, I was all over it like…well…pre-historic man on a Mammoth hunt. We left our current boondocking spot in Quartzsite early AM (to avoid the heat) and motored the short hop over to Blythe and onto US95 north. Around 15 miles north of town we saw the sign to the Blythe Intaglios on the left, turned onto the bumpy dirt road and drove around 1/2 mile to the first pullout. A short hike to the first gated enclosure and we were there.
These things were so much bigger than I expected!
There are 6 total figures here in 3 separate areas, believed to have been created by the Mohave or Quechan Indians somewhere between 450 and 2,000 years ago (geogylphs are hard to date). Two large man-like drawings (likely Mastamho, the Creator) and a some smaller animals (likely Hatakulya, two mountain lions/persons who helped in the Creation) stretch up to 171 feet (~52 meters) in length across the desert floor.
From ground level the figures are grossly distorted and look like gangly, insane giants (aliens?) as if the artist(s) who created them was slightly mad. It’s only from the sky that their true beauty emerges, a veritable masterpiece of symmetry and form, and they call to the Gods as strongly as the day they were created.
The one and only time I ever wished I owned a drone…seriously!
Doggie and us spent an hour or so (in total solitude by the way) visiting the three sets of figures. We were totally awed by this ancient history, beautifully preserved in such an obscure location (yes, I did say Blythe). When we finally managed to pull ourselves free and motor back home, we were lost in the history of ancient man and the pre-historic stories of the desert. We lounged at our spacious site, mixed ourselves a Pisco Sour (it seemed fitting) and pondered what the sunset must have looked like 2000 years ago.
Quite a fascinating little day-trip, and we didn’t even need to fly to Peru to experience it 🙂
Note/ Access to the Blythe Intaglios is via a somewhat bumpy dirt road. Our CRV did fine, but very low-clearance cars might want to park below the first small hill and hike up. The first two sets of geoglyphs are accessible from large pull outs with trails directly from the main road, while the third set is off-road ~1/2 mile to the south. All are located along the first mile of the road. If you drive past the end of the fenced-off area you’ve gone too far and missed them. This is BLM land, free to access and 100% dog friendly.