Native American Rock Art

Tour the roughly 200 remaining rock carvings in Columbia Hills State Park across the river from The Dalles, Ore. 

petroglyph from Columbia Hills State Park, image

Rock art, such as this one, depicts spiritual figures such as owls, goats, and sheep.

Once the site of a prosperous American Indian village, Washington’s Columbia Hills State Park also cradles some of the Northwest’s most stunning rock art. Starting April 6, visitors can take a guided tour to view a handful of extraordinary carved and painted works on basalt cliffs across the Columbia River from The Dalles, Ore.

She Who Watches, a 300-year-old, rusty-red pictograph and petroglyph, is the most startling and storied of the works. Local lore holds that it’s the menacing face of a female chief who battled a coyote trickster before being thrown onto the rock. Other works in the area, which show markings in the recognized styles of several different tribes, depict spiritual figures, owls, goats, elk, sheep, and geometric patterns.

Nearby, about 200 rock carvings—some of thousands once located near the site of the Dalles Dam—line the interpretive Temani Pesh-wa Trail. “Removing them to build the dam was akin to ripping pages out of a sacred tome and scattering them to the wind,” says ranger Andrew Kallinen. The park, including the unguided Temani Pesh-wa Trail, opens for the season on April 1. Free, hour-long tours run Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. Reservations are required. (509) 767-1159, parks.wa.gov/parks.

Photography by Melissa Barnes

This article was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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