Sky Rock, Rosetta Stone, 13 Moons

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Recently we visited a friend living in the Owens Valley hamlet of Bishop, California.

They offered to take us just north of town into the Volcanic Tablelands to view ancient petroglyphs.  We quickly excepted.

Distant View Of The High Sierra From The Volcanic Tablelands

The Bureau of Land Management describes the Volcanic Tablelands as a vast volcanic landscape that was formed over 700,000 years ago by lava materials spewing from the Long Valley caldera, located to the northwest.

Around 8,800 years ago the Paiute-Shoshone Indians resided in the valley leaving behind an extensive collection of exquisitely chiseled petroglyphs on these volcanic rocks. 

Out of the hundreds of petroglyphs located throughout the area this post will only spotlight the three sites we visited over a period of a few days in mid February of 2016.

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First let me get this straight… I understand it petroglyphs differ from pictographs in that they are chipped with a harder stone into the dark surfaces of rock, as opposed to pictographs that are painted on the rock.

Ancient petroglyph creators chipped through the dark “desert varnish”  exposing the inner rock that is lighter in color. This provides the contrast that make the designs standout.

Sky Rock

The rocks within the tablelands are known as Bishop tuff and are composed of several layers of a salmon-colored pumice.

The lava plateau can be up to 600 feet deep in places, but the average is 12 feet thick on the southern edges of the flow.


The meaning of the symbols is not absolutely clear. Some objects are easily recognizable such as deer, bighorn sheep, human figures, and birds.

Other symbols include lines, grids, and concentric circles in many different configurations.  There are also incomplete symbols, scribblings, and random chip marks.


Many believe that some of symbols depict visitors from space or other unknown peoples.

I have to admit that standing alone above sky rock taking in the extraordinary distant views of the High Sierra and the overall magnitude of the high plateau was very inspirational. 

It was easy to see how the original artists were inspired many hundreds of years ago. Sky Rock is a very special place, indeed.  The rocks orientation facing towards the heavens is very unusual. 

There are a number of popular theories as to the meaning of the content or placement of the symbols on sky rock. It is a very busy piece of art with lots of long flowing lines and symbol movement.

The Rosetta Stone

We found the Rosetta Stone on our own and it proved to be a little more of a challenge.

Following vague directions, my friend Brad and I almost gave up looking before we finally located the stone within a brushy area situated along a small creek just north of Hwy 395.

Brad Scrutinizing The Stone

This single stone is an amazing piece of art that stands alone with no other petroglyphs nearby.  A nearby cave must have provided shelter to its creator.


The stones symbols are very striking and a distinct outline surrounds the edge of its varnished face. 

13 Moons Boulder

Finding the 13 moons petroglyph took some walking and scrambling to finally locate this site.

Once I finally located the site it was obvious why the creator picked this boulder to chisel on.  Standing at its base the artist had excellent views to the north and west and the sky above.

Early Man Depicted On 13 Moons Boulder

13 moons was probably the most interesting site not only because of its composition but also its meaning.

Indications are that this site was used as an lunar calendar to chart the motion of the moon.

There are 13 moons in a given year and 13 moons are chiseled onto the rock face with other symbols carved around each moon most likely highlighting certain events that may have taken place during different times of the year.

Standing alone in front of this petroglyph is awe inspiring.  In the evening light I could almost feel the presence of its creator standing behind me, it was actually a little eerie.

Denise And The Pups Enjoy Sunrise In The Volcanic Tablelands

We certainly enjoyed photographing the petroglyphs within this wonderland of rocks and we can’t wait to return and search for more.

Due to recent vandalism to other nearby petroglyphs I will not provide specific directions to these sites.  

Next we are off to more interesting desert locations, keep you posted…….

16 thoughts on “Sky Rock, Rosetta Stone, 13 Moons

  1. Hey there, fantastic read! I was just at the Volcanic Tablelands myself this past weekend tracking down Sky Rock and 13 Moons. As you said, both were deeply moving sites to ponder our past, and our future even. In my research of the area, though, I never came across the third stone you were able to find, the “Rosetta Stone.” I was hoping you could possibly shed some more light on it. Happy travels!

    Cliff M.


  2. Hi Denise and Tim,
    Thanks for the great pictures and another history lesson. I love getting your videos and I learn something new every time I get them. Joyce also wanted to tell you that she loves your pictures and information. Hope to see you soon and I have something for you guys when you come and stay at the Gehlhaar KOA. Gert and Joyce.


    1. Thanks Gert, We had a great time with you and your friends thanks for the space. It was worth the trip to DV the flowers were stunning. Hope to see you again as we head north. Tim


  3. Wow! This was the best video ever …since seeing Brad fly fish . This gave me goose bumps ! Thanks so much for sharing your views.


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