Editor’s Note: This column appeared in The Friday Flyer exactly five years ago today, August 26, 2011. Some of the rock art mentioned in this article is no longer visible, but there is no doubt some residents will still remember it.
I believe that a yearning for artistic expression has been a human constant from the beginning. Evidence of this is everywhere – on the walls of caves, in the halls of castles and on freeway overpasses. Trudge along any ancient Indian trail and, at certain landmarks or crossings, you will find hieroglyphics scratched into the rocks. Visit the land of the Anasazi in the American Southwest and admire paintings of animals and their hunters along vast stone galleries. In the Lascaux caverns in France, there are elegant portraits of long-extinct bison, bears, wild oxen and mastodons.
In our time, museums, art galleries, books and concert halls display the works of painters, sculptors, composers and writers that produce an unending supply of imaginative creativity on canvas, marble, clay, wood, human skin and paper.
Then there are the rock artists.
As my wife, Dorothy, and I travel by car, we often encounter unusual artistic expression reflected from the roadside.
Little Lake, California, along Hwy 395 in Inyo County, no longer exists. Established during the Gold Rush era, the town was a way station for travelers to Owens Valley. The only remnants are some foundation blocks from a once-thriving hotel that boasted a post office in its lobby. There was a restaurant. Over the years, we always stopped at Little Lake on our travels along Hwy 395.
The town is gone, but at least one set of visitors left a memory of their passing. The San Fernando Valley Sundowners is a motorcycle club that often passed through town. Some members decided to leave evidence of their passing on the rocky prominence across from the hotel site. It took work and perseverance to climb these rocks carrying paint and brushes. The colors are starting to fade, but the evidence of their passing remains.
While the Sundowner memory was a painting, another artist used paint to transform an ordinary boulder into a scary creature emerging from the desert floor in Antelope Hills, an area west of Lone Pine and below Mount Whitney in California. It is a devastation of worn and weathered granite boulders that served as movie props for countless westerns. Roy Rogers made his first movie here and RKO filmed the classic Gunga Din among these rocks.
There are artisan eyes that can look at the ordinary and imagine a beautiful work of art . All it takes to develop that image – so that those of us with less vision can see it – is a theme, some agility and some paint. Some of these creations can be seen very near Canyon Lake. Traveling west on new Newport Rd., just after crossing Murrieta Rd., look up the rocky slope to the left. There, perched on a flag draped rock is a bald eagle, symbol of the United States of America – artist unknown.
Driving north on Hwy 74 from I-15, looking left just before Greenwald Dr., one can see a pile of broken rocks transformed into a natural sculpture of an apple, broken apart and displaying its seeds. This artwork has been in place for years; in the past its colors have faded, only to be brought back to brightness by some unknown artist who didn’t want it to fade away.
Just north of the broken apple crouches a green frog whose granite body has graced this spot for years. It, too, has faded and been resurrected from time to time. Over the years, I have tried to squint away the colors of the apple and the frog to see what the artist saw when he or she spotted their presence in the rocky rubble along the road. Without the paint they were just rocks. Not so to the artist’s eye.
I think most states, including California, frown on defacing rocks, carving initials in wild trees and digging up and hauling away nature’s own art work. All jurisdictions have laws against the graffiti scourge. I support these rules and agree that nature is a far better judge of what looks good in the wild. But when the artistic effort goes beyond mere vandalism, I can’t help but admire the frog, the apple, the desert monster, the Sundowner motorcycle club whose effort went beyond mere tagging, and, of course, Mount Rushmore.
Art truly is in the eye of the beholder.