Genius loci

[Genius Loci] June 2021

1 June 2021

It was as if the pandemic never happened. Gamblers and revelers, some with open containers in hand and others with skunky herb, stumbled through the streets. Like a school of fish, the amorphous throng moved as one. Individuals peeled off here, and some departed there, but the maskless crowd continued late into the warm Las Vegas night. Lights, slot machine noise, music, cars. Too many people, too much stimulation. We needed out.

We took off for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, where we hiked through the Martian-like landscape of the Calico Hills. Few people were on the trails. We could finally breathe high atop the Calico Hills, where we spotted the city of Las Vegas, boiling with human activity, off in the distance. Thankfully.

There are miles of hiking trails in Red Rock Canyon, some that I wandered through almost a decade ago. But there is one I hadn’t walked down before. The Petroglyph Wall Trail can hardly be called a hiking trail. It is more like a gravel path. But at its end, we came to the trail’s namesake: petroglyphs and pictographs.

Some 800 years ago, long before Europeans came to the New World, someone—a Native America—defaced the delicate sandstone walls and carved strange shapes on them. Why they were created and what they represent is anyone’s guess. Though, nearby, we spotted something more magnificent: red-pigmented handprints, just as old, slapped on the stone.

I imagined the thrill someone had here when he or she first discovered the artistic gesture. I imagined the comfort and safety that someone, like me, found in these hills so long ago. But as we were leaving, and another car pulled into the trailhead parking lot, I also thought about the irony in it all. That, despite our need to escape the crowds, it was the mark of another human that pulls us back. That, amid the natural beauty of Red Rock Canyon, it was the mark of another human that helped us better understand the beauty of the world.

Petroglyphs, Red Rock Canyon, Nevada Pictograph, Red Rock Canyon, Nevada