Travels in the American Southwest

Pictograph or Petroglyph?

Long before English or Spanish was spoken on the North American continent, Native Americans used a symbol-based form of writing. Some of these symbols were used to convey messages to others passing at a later time; Some symbols were used to record events important to the tribe's history.

These symbols fall into two main categories: Pictograph or Petroglyph.

Symbols which are painted on a rock are pictographs. Thanks to the desert heat and lack of moisture, many examples pictographs can still be seen and admired today.

Petroglyphs are created by using a small stone to carve or scratch the symbol into the rock face.


Both pictographs and petroglyphs are protected by one or more federal, state or local agencies. Fines for disturbing these or other Native American sites are quite high. Please consider the travelers who will follow you and allow them the experiences that you so much enjoyed.

The Valley of Fire story contains further info on where petroglyphs and pictographs may be found. Unfortunately, vandals carving initials in the face of the stone at Atlatl Rock have marred and destroyed many of the petroglyphs.

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