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It’s easier than ever to see the rock-art riches of Sloan Canyon — it takes more responsibility, too

Sloan CanyonThe Sloan Canyon petroglyphs are a site of conflict. Not an ancient battle, but a more recent clash — of philosophies. The art etched onto the rocky slopes of aptly named Petroglyph Canyon is a superlative treasure. With more than 300 separate panels and 1,700 individual designs, it’s the richest rock-art site in Nevada, and is an invaluable cultural and historical resource that must be protected. It’s also a place the public should visit and appreciate. Those two forces are stubbornly difficult to align, but that’s what the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with.

In 2011, back when accessing Petroglyph Canyon required a cross-country hike or an off-road truck, I was privileged to tour the area with BLM ranger Brenda Warner, who gave a firsthand account of this dilemma. As we drove unimproved roads through the hard-to-reach conservation area, Warner talked about the need to bring greater access to this historic site. Public lands belong to everyone, and the petroglyphs are part of our shared history.

Unfortunately, not everyone who ventured to Petroglyph Canyon was conservation-minded. The site was having problems with vandalism. People were destroying these artifacts. Increased visitation would inevitably lead to increased damage.

Year by year, the city grew ever closer. Information about the petroglyphs spread across the internet. Keeping people out was becoming untenable.

On the day of my tour, Great Basin Institute was constructing an official trail to Petroglyph Canyon. It was a first, hesitant step toward preparing Sloan Canyon for the inevitable arrival of tourists.

In the intervening years, The BLM has overseen the construction of a paved access road, a parking area, and a new trailhead for Petroglyph Canyon. Finally, in the spring of 2016, the BLM opened its long-awaited visitor contact station, where guests learn about the natural and human history of the area. More importantly, guests learn ways to minimize their impact on the site, preserving it for future generations. Of utmost importance are the admonitions to remain on the trail and not to touch the petroglyphs. Contact with the oils on our skin will damage the art.

To see the petroglyphs for yourself, make your way to Bicentennial Parkway, just south of the Henderson Executive Airport. Turn south onto Via Firenze, then turn right onto Democracy Drive. Last, turn left on Nawghaw Poa, to the parking area. Be sure to check in at the contact station before embarking on the four-mile intermediate hike. Along the way, be on the lookout for the bowl-shaped grinding stones that natives used to process foods. Don’t touch those, either.

Thanks to its protections, Sloan Canyon is still a wild place, in much the same condition it would have been in when natives occupied the area in millennia past. We are now the stewards of this sacred site. It’s up to us to show it the respect and deference that will preserve it for millennia to come.

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