~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Leaving Your Mark

Chiseled in stone, an ancient handprint. Painted Rocks National Monument

I finally got out for a decent ride on the bike Sunday. Between rainy weather and a chest cold my riding season has had a bite taken out of it. Seems like something happens every year to steal away some of the best days.

Having two bikes in the garage there is always the decision to be made as to which one to ride. I rode the Kawasaki 1600 last so this time I took the Aprilia. Besides, the Caponord is generally more fun, especially solo, than the 1600 Kawasaki. The poor Kaw had sat for so long since it's previous ride that it barely started; no such lack-of-use problem with the Caponord as it begs to be ridden. To be honest, I'd just sell the Kaw and stick with the Aprilia but I'd have to take a loss on the 1600 and until I've gotten more use out of it I'll hang onto the bike.

I visit the Painted Rocks National Monument about 90 miles southeast of Phoenix. There's a large pile of black, granite looking rocks (hey, I'm not a geologist) there and people have been carving symbols on them for about 1,000 years now. Some ancient rock art, more properly called petroglyphs, are painted on, these are literally carved in stone. The carvings are attributed to "the ancient ones" as no one seems to know precisely which forbearers of the modern Indian tribes did the artwork. Since the government started protecting the site way back when any additional carvings have been kept to a minimum.

Besides the symbols the Indians carved before Columbus was born, Spanish military guy and explorer Juan Bautista de Anza carved his name there in 1750-something, a few pioneers etched their names there in the late 19th century, and some putz name Tino carved his name there in 1983. Considering how base and thoughtless modern man has become I'm surprised someone has not already snuck in at night and chiseled "Metallica Rulz" across 1,000 years of history. Thank goodness the site is protected now or people would carve things to pieces or more likely dynamite the place and sell the chunks on eBay.

What year does it stop being historical and just become graffiti?

The Painted Rocks site is an amazing place to see, there are thousands of carvings etched into the granite rocks and in an area of only a few acres at most. I always thought the ancient people sort of scratched the surface of a the rock but the figures are close to 1/4" into the rock. It's no wonder they remain visible after so many centuries. Archaeologists and others are not in agreement as to the meaning of the rock symbols. Some are obviously lizards, the sun, a ram, or a snake. Others are more cryptic and may represent a house or the life force and I found one that looked to me like a wooly mammoth but it might have been a javelina (wild pig thing). And don't laugh at the mammoth idea, the darned things made it into the Southwest at one point, paleontologists have dug up wooly mammoth bones south of Phoenix on the Gila Indian Reservation. But what the symbols meant to the ancient people who carved them is anybody's guess and they not unlike an Italian motorcycle owners manual now that I think about it.

I admit that when you sit there and reflect on the carvings and how long they have been there the idea of obtaining some degree of earthly immortality is appealing so it's not difficult to understand why explorers, settlers and later people decided to add there names to the rocks. Now the Painted Rocks are a protected cultural site as they should be but I did have a thought while riding home about finding some remote place in some other corner of the desert with similar type rocks and carving my name and the shape of a motorcycle so people a 1,000 years from now can sit in the early morning light, ponder the immense significance of my handiwork and say "Huh?" And don't carp at me about damaging the environment, what the ancients did to leave their mark is no more valid the things we do to be remembered. The only difference is that their work will last longer than a bad rock 'n roll song or a web blog.

A couple of these big guys are living large around the rocks off the bugs and greens made abundant by this year's exceptional amount of rain in the Southwest:

This guy's people have been there longer than our people (he's about 10" long, by the way)

Anyway, it was a really nice ride out there and back, the weather was perfect and there were lots of wild flowers to be seen. The Aprilia is always a joy to ride with the 990cc -V-twin rumbling away through the Remus mufflers. The petroglyphs are interesting enough that I need to go back and shoot more pictures, preferably in the early morning light. There are also lots of dirt roads in that area so some dirt excursions with the Caponord are in order.
More pictures here if you're interested ancient rock art.

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