Forgotten Petroglyphs
The meaning of history lost
Yakima, WA

August 19, 2006

I was sitting around a table with some old timers in Yakima talking about nothing at all.  We had stayed in the town before so I wasn't expecting do find anything that would create a desire to write about.  We had used the town as a stopping place when we were writing about Mount Rainier and had even considered writing about the apple industry which still thrives here.  So it was, that one guy asked me "You been out to the old Indian paintings?" adding "Not many people go there anymore."  Well we had written about some pretty spectacular Indian rock paintings in Waco Tanks and other places, so I let it pass. Later, his comments came back to mind. I was thinking about the part about people not going there anymore. One afternoon Laura decided to take a ride out and find these forgotten markings and see what we could find out about their origin. Following the instructions received earlier, we traveled along an old two lane road, never seeing another car as we went. A gloom had settled down around us and we considered returning for fear of rain.  When we arrived as the corner of Powerhouse and Ackley Roads we passed a flight of rough stone stairs leading up to the side of high cliff.  a small sign hung precariously from rusty hinges, describing the scene above. From this sign we learned that the images painted on the rocks above were of an unknown origin.  It was  believed that they were created in a time before the white man traveled these parts. The path on which they lay was once an Indian trail used by the Ahtanum band of the Yakimas who wandered up and around the Wenas Mountains. Early records of their existence was reported in the writings of miners who used the path in the 1850s, as they passed through on their way to the Klondike gold fields in British Columbia, Canada.  Years later a road was improvised along the river bank and a stage coach ran past the cliff.  By the time historians were able to record the local folk lore, the meaning of the drawings were  lost in the stories told by Indians around campfires, The designs are similar to those found throughout the Northwest and are generally accepted to be a recording of religious beliefs, hunting experiences and the meetings of other tribes. I worked my way slowly along the ragged trail where the most precarious parts were protected by only a rickety hand rail, examining each image as it appeared among the cracks and crevices of the rock wall. Those which have survived best were found under ledges or hangovers where wind and rain have been limited.  Even so, the paint used, which is of mysterious origin and makeup, seems to be impervious to the ravages of time.  It only takes about a half hour to see most of the images and although the stairway up to the cliff base can be tedious at points, the path itself is easily negotiated provided you are not staring at the paintings while walking. On the short ride back into town I noted that the world quickly surrounded these ancient drawings, swallowing them up as if they had never existed. The noise and bustle of humanity merrily going about its daily chores, oblivious to the existence of a world gone by and a story untold.

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