As hikers go, I am admittedly not an expert. Granted, I’m no rookie either, but if you’re an experienced hiker and you’re reading this review expecting terminology like “base weight,” “alpine zone,” or “peak bagging,” I guarantee you will be disappointed. Or maybe you won’t be because I just used those terms right there?
The trail to the petroglyphs is why you’re reading this and I will say that it was really enjoyable, even for my three-year-old. If a toddler can handle the trail, almost anyone can handle the trail. The multiple rock carvings are great, especially for children who can understand their significance. Admittedly, toddlers are not the target audience but I am confident that anyone north of age 10 will be impressed.
Depending on where you live in the Truckee Meadows, the drive can range in its duration because the trailhead is a fair distance up Pyramid Highway, off the east side of Calle de la Plata. We live in a wonderful age where digital apps can direct us to places like trailheads and free apps like AllTrails can guide us along the way. As such, that is not the point of this article so I will leave that to you to discover, but plan for about 25 minutes in the car once you hit Pyramid Highway north of McCarran.
Upon reaching the dirt road (don’t fret, sedan drivers, your car can handle it but maybe think twice before going on a rainy/muddy day) you will travel east to a bend in the road where a canyon hangs on your left and a sharp left in the road displays a small parking area where about three or four cars can park on the south – or uphill – side of the road.
Park there and cross the road, descend a fairly steep but very short (<20 feet) slope into a wash that leads into the canyon. If you have a toddler like I did, you will most certainly need to carry him or her on your shoulders or at minimum take the lead through the slope and reach back up so that their little hand can take yours in order to descend the grade. Proceed another 300 feet or so across the wash into the canyon and from there you begin your journey west, left, or downhill, along the canyon/creek bed. Yes, I said creek bed.
In the springtime you can expect some water flowing down the creek, which is criss-crossed by the hiking path. If you go in the spring when the snowmelt flows and/or the ground is soggy, say, between March and May, wear waterproof shoes. Yes, I said shoes.
Boots are preferable because the footing off the trail consists mostly of loose shale and some firm boulders. The shale seems to be a favorite of young children because they will constantly pick up, examine, find shapes in, claim for their own, and then readily discard, every rock they see, but older children and (especially) adolescents will just complain that it “keeps slipping out from under [their] feet” along with other spurious claims related to the weather being “too hot” and that “this had better be worth it.”
But again I digress. Regular shoes are fine and the rocks are not as bad as the teenagers make them out to be.
After you traipse down the creek/trail about half a mile or so, the first wall of petroglyphs appears on your left (south). It is small and hard to discern if you don’t know where to look but just go past the seemingly random trees in the middle of the canyon about 100 feet and there they are. A note on the petroglyphs: the people who carved them seemed to be fishing in the creek and while fishing, spent their time carving into the rock above. So while we might go fishing and smoke our cigars from Fumare and listen to our favorite Pandora station, the petroglyphians (totally just made up an entire race of people there) sat with rocks, chiseling shapes of significance into bigger rocks.
Those shapes of significance might give us clues as to what the so-called “primitive” people were thinking, doing, or experiencing (author’s note: how judgmental to think that we are “advanced” when half of us take pharmaceutical medicine just to normalize our existence?). But maybe they are simply a bored person’s way spending time waiting for the fish to bite. Sound familiar?
The point is, we need to take our children on exciting adventures because that is what calls us. The outdoors are grand, vast, and unique every single time we visit them… but especially with children. They see something new every time! Imagine taking a hike and viewing it through your child’s eyes.
No, really, try it next time. Pretend you’re three. Or 10. Or 16. Or 32. Take your kids to places you love, even if they’re adults. View life through their eyeballs next time and it might just impact your own life.
Later on down the trail you will find scores of petroglyphs on the opposite (north) side of the trail and entire walls of these carvings are still here for us to observe and ponder. Keep your eyes open for lizards because in summertime they are everywhere on the trail and serve as a wonderful teaching lesson. And please, dads, do teach your kids to ponder and consider, not just rush right up and touch. Both the animals and the rock marks of millennia ago should be honored and not simply played with. This is not merely a jaunt, but a series of events to be experienced, just like life itself. Take the time to be fully present with your kids’ adventures and not just photograph them for Instagram.
Petroglyphs transcend tens of thousands of years and hundreds of generations of fathers and their children bonding over quiet time among God’s grand creation: nature. On this hike you will paradoxically walk downhill to your destination and then uphill to exit. And that is the great beauty of this local adventure, which is to teach your children of the uniqueness that awaits them around, quite literally, every corner.
See life through your kids’ eyes but with the wisdom of your own. I promise you will truly experience magic.