White River Narrows is approximately 23 miles north of Hiko.

To learn more about the rock art of White River Narrows, a brochure is available from the BLM Caliente Field Office.

This webpage and the brochure were produced by NRAF with the assistance of a grant from the Lincoln County Archaeological Initiative.

White River Narrows

White River Narrows, in lower White River Valley, is a winding canyon formed during the Pleistocene (ca. 2.5 million to 11,700 years ago) and home to one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric rock art in eastern Nevada. It contains numerous rock art sites that collectively form a district covering some 4,000 acres that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The petroglyphs at White River Narrows provide glimpses into the cultural lives of Native American peoples who lived by harvesting wild plants and animals from some 4,000 years ago until the nineteenth century. Although the exact meanings of the Narrows’ rock art may be unknowable, they mark the Narrows as a place important to those who made and used these galleries of ancient art. These petroglyphs continue today to be important to Native American peoples living in the region.

For most of the region’s history, until the coming of Euro-American settlers in the nineteenth century, hunter-gatherer cultures settled eastern Nevada. Hunters and gatherers skillfully harvested the wild resources of the arid Great Basin. Their deep environmental knowledge and efficient technology allowed them to prosper in the region for thousands of years. Hunter-gatherer groups lived in small, mobile family groups and moved across the landscape to gather seasonally available plants, animals, and other resources. Their cultural knowledge was expressed through song, myth, and rock art. Early farmers from the Fremont Culture (2000-850 years ago) of Utah also influenced the prehistory of eastern Nevada. Short-term campsites and pottery made by the Fremont are found in eastern Nevada, indicating trade and cultural connections with their core territory to the east.

White River Narrows has two main rock art styles, one generally associated with hunter-gatherers (Basin and Range tradition) and one with Fremont groups. Basin and Range tradition rock art is distinguished by finely made abstract designs such as circles, spirals, rectangles, and wavy lines. These were often combined to make complex images and compositions that are very ambiguous and evocative. In this tradition of rock art, artists depicted people as stick-figures. They portrayed a wide range of animal species, most commonly bighorn sheep, but also deer, coyotes, lizards, mountain lions, and birds. Fremont rock art is famous for its stylized portrayals of people, sometimes depicted wearing jewelry like necklaces and earrings.

Archaeologists have suggested that rock art may have been made to secure supernatural aid for hunting and to ensure that the plants and animals needed by people were abundant. Other archaeologists think that rock art was made by traditional healers (shamans) to secure supernatural powers and record important lore. More recently, rock art has been seen as one way that people turn their physical environment into culturally meaningful places by establishing enduring landmarks. Rock art is one of the few archaeological monuments where contemporary visitors can stand in the footprints of prehistoric peoples and their descendants.

This webpage and the brochure were produced by NRAF with the assistance of a grant from the Lincoln County Archaeological Initiative.