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Earth Notes: Colorado River Geoglyphs

A human figure carved into the desert, seen from a great height above
Rsfinlayson/Wikimedia Commons
One of the Blythe Geoglyphs in California

A geoglyph or an intaglio is a large design created on the ground using land elements best viewed from the sky. The most well-known geoglyphs may be Peru’s Nazca lines, stylized figures of plants and animals, some thousands of feet wide. Yet well over 600 geoglyphs have been identified along the Colorado River from Nevada along the Arizona/California border to the Gulf of California into Northern Mexico. These expansive ground features include images of human, animal, and geometric forms. Carbon-14 dating has been used to obtain approximate dates for their construction, averaging 1,500 years ago.

It’s believed that Mojave, Quechan, and other lower Colorado River tribes created these geoglyphs, although their origin isn’t known for certain. Natural processes have taken their toll on these special places, and human threats such as off-road vehicle use have caused further damage. Today some of the sites are easily accessible off Highway 95 such as the six Blythe Geoglyphs in California which have been preserved from further degradation by the Bureau of Land Management. The largest of the human figures in this concentration measures 171 feet.

In the beliefs of the Mojave and Quechan Tribes, the human figure represents the creator of all life and the animal figures represent one of the two mountain lion/persons that helped in Creation. Weldon Johnson, a Mojave Tribal member, says these giant figures are not a thing of the past, but sacred objects vital to the spiritual life of the Tribes of the lower Colorado River today.

This Earth Note was written by Carrie Calisay Cannon and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University.

Carrie Calisay Cannon is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and also of Oglala Lakota and German ancestry. She has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Resource Management. If you wish to connect with Carrie you will need a fast horse; by weekday she fills her days as a full-time Ethnobotanist with the Hualapai Indian Tribe of the Grand Canyon of Arizona, by weekend she is a lapidary and silversmith artist who enjoys chasing the beautiful as she creates Native southwestern turquoise jewelry.
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