Success! Pictographs found at Piedra Blanca! Team XplorMor has hiked the Piedra Blanca Trail in Los Padres National Forest, located near the Ojai Valley in Southern California, many times to study its unusual rock formations, and to seek out the well hidden petroglyphs. On this last expedition we located them, and discovered three important points: first, there’s more than one site, second, it’s good they are hidden as one of the locations has serious vandalism, and third, they are not petroglyphs but pictographs. I’ll explain the difference…
There are four major types of rock art: petroglyphs, cupules, geoglyphs, also known as intaglios, and pictographs. Petroglyphs are rock engravings produced by carving or striking the rock surface using various techniques (See photo: Darien Gap). Cupules are small cup-shaped indentations made in rock that may seem in a pattern or at random. They are a type of petroglyph in that stone is ground or carved out to create them. Geoglyphs are giant drawings made on the ground presumably depicting geometric designs, human forms and animals.
Pictographs are a fragile cousin to petroglyphs. They are designs drawn on rock surfaces with paints made from natural mineral pigments applied with fibrous brushes or with hands and fingers. These pigments were mixed with binders such as oil, blood or urine. Hematite (iron oxide), the most common color in Southern California, was used for creating red paints, and presumably those of Piedra Blanca. Pictographs were typically drawn in caves, overhangs and alcoves where they would be better protected from harsh weather elements.
Thank goodness the drawings are not easily found as sadly the ones that are not far from the trail have been vandalized: scratched off, chipped at and even large sections seemingly removed. I presumed taken as the rock looks neatly chiseled and large flat disc-shaped pieces are missing. Sadly, it also appears that a recent visitor threw rocks at the drawings, chipping them, and used rocks to scratch over their surfaces. The photo below shows some of this damage. I was very disappointed to see that someone had made the drive, made the hike, found the petroglyphs, only to deface them. Why?! Piedra Blanca’s sacred, historic site is unfortunately left to echo the question.
Information resource: Calisphere, connected to the University of California System and the California Digital Library.
Read more and watch XplorMor Expedition slide show from Piedra Blanca. Please note: we have not included locations of other pictograph sites for their protection, please do not email requesting this information.