Lauren and Shawn wait in the library for the afternoon bus. Spending her time efficiently, Lauren catches up on homework. Shawn, though, kills time flipping through the local newspaper.
Turning the paper open, Shawn slaps his hands on the table. “Lauren, here’s a picture of our ranch. The rangelands, anyway, at Baking Powder Springs. Look, this article it’s called, ‘Local Ancient Rock Graffiti'”.
Lauren shuts her book and tugs the newspaper closer. “What? These petroglyphs?” Chewing her lower lip, she studies the paper and says, “This is our place, I’ve seen these cliffs. I remember hearing about this, but I’ve never seen pictures.” She jumps to her feet and scoops up her school work. “We’ve gotta go find out more about these rocks!”
The two teens ask the local librarian for books about the history and facts of the ancient rock graffiti, then they are sent to the local museum to discover there are no answers.
The books that the two read about ancient rock art across western Wyoming are interesting, but extremely vague because there is little research published.
New technologies, though, promise breakthroughs and answers about the petroglyphs. The scratches and scrapings intrigue the teens and becomes a mystery. A mystery so sacred that even the grownups around cannot answer. The Native myths and legends read fuel their curiosity even more.
Shawn read the words of the Pioneer Home director to Lauren, “Be comfortable with not knowing what they mean and enjoy them for what they may invoke in you.”
“That says it all,” Shawn closes the book.
“That’s it then, Shawn?” Lauren looks to her brother with a frown. “You’re just giving up? Don’t you want to go find the petroglyphs?”
“Well, I guess I do,” Shawn shrugs and drops his hands to his sides. “I have lot’s of homework this weekend,” he smiles as he puts the research books away.
“You’ve got all weekend,” Lauren encourages her brother’s notion to ignore his school work. “Come on, let’s get home and tell Dad what we’re doing. Maybe, he’ll know where the pictures are.” Lauren says racing for the bus.
Shawn and Lauren set off early the next day riding horseback for miles in unbroken silence through Wilson Draw to make their own discoveries. The gentle autumn breeze bending the dry grass and the steady clap of their horses’ hooves upon the pebble trail echo through the canyon walls.
Juniper trees fill every draw with their sweet musky smell. Shawn points over his shoulder to a scrawny coyote trailing at a distance behind Lauren. He pulls his rifle from the scabbard.
Lauren wiggles in her saddle before urging her horse to a gentle trot, “Don’t shoot!” A startling racket bursts from the tall sagebrush. One lone Magpie erupts in a frenzy of black and white, clucks and caws, sending Shawn’s white and copper horse from his sleepy walk into a saddle-slapping, nostril-flaring, tail-farting launch that only horses are good at. Lauren laughs at her brother’s near loss of his seat from the secure old ‘Hamley’ saddle.
The sun, high in the October sky, drums down steady heat. The two riders near the petroglyph site of Baking Powder Spring and its surrounding pale cliff walls edged with shags of coarse brush and cactus.
“Lauren, let’s go to the creek.” Shawn says, as they approach the spring. “We’ll water the horses and shade up for the afternoon. We can look around when it cools off.”
Lauren points southward. “There’s some shade across the creek. We can stake the horses there in that grass.”
Minutes later, two cans of baked beans and wieners are roasting over a fire built from cedar and dry boughs. The cool autumn evening creeps in. “We’d better go look around while we have some daylight left,” Lauren pops the last of her charred ration in her mouth.
While they hike Shawn says, “The drawings, they’re carved with sharp stones and sometimes stenciled like hand-prints.” Pulling his hat tight, Shawn gazes up at the rocks, ” Watch for hand prints, are there any here? Do you think, Lauren?”
“No, there aren’t. There are some in Hot Springs County, though, I read.” Lauren scratches her nose before explaining. “Solutions of sands, dyes and animal fats were sprayed from their mouth over their hand leaving a perfect stencil,” she talks with her hands and spraying an imaginary mist from her lips.
They reach the stone wall. “Finally! Here they are, and lower than I imagined. I thought they’d come to about my shoulder,” Lauren says.
Look at this deep sand that has washed off the cliff,” Shawn says. “Just like the book said, these pictures won’t be here forever!” Shawn looks up at the wall, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets on the seat of his jeans. He pauses in front of a cluster of mysterious images of stick-men and animal figures wearing head-dresses. “These with horns must be Big Horn Sheep. Look how their fingers are long and slender and bigger than anything else on their bodies.”
“Zoomorph!” Lauren bursts. “They’re animal figures. But aren’t really animals. That was such a funny word that I read in that big fat book from the University, I knew I’d remember it.”
Shawn touches the warm powdery rock and whispers, “Two human shapes entwined together by a thin line, while smaller figures scattered around.”
Pausing, he looks to Lauren making sure she’s not listening. She’s not. “All figures are connected by a line. This line symbolize the connection between our world and the spirit world.”
“Shawn, don’t you think this spring was bigger back then?” Lauren asks. “I do remember reading that almost all petroglyph sites are near water. Native people held spiritual connection to water. The people look to me like they are all wearing cloaks and robes,” Lauren rattles on about all she had read about the petroglyphs. “I’ll bet they spent the winters here out of the high mountains and deep snows and where the hunting was good.”
“I read,“ Shawn remembers with a grin, “The purpose of the rock art is ‘hunting magic!’ By drawing the picture, it would appear and guarantee a successful hunt.”
“I read that too. I tucked a book in my bed-role that I thought might come in handy out here. I’ll dig it out when we’re through looking around.”
“What kind of book did you bring Lauren? Not a library book, I hope.”
“No, It’s a book of Mom’s about the Arapahoe and Shoshone Indians and their legends.” Lauren is quiet for a moment lost in her thoughts. Through squinted eyes she says, “An earlier tribe in Western Wyoming, a lot like the Shoshone, dates back 5,000 years or more! Now that’s a long time!”
“So these petroglyphs are 5,000 years old?” Shawn asks.
“Maybe, remember there is no carbon dating. The pictures are above the soil; no dead organisms to study,” Lauren reminds Shawn of their research.
“That book of Mom’s will be handy. We’ll look at it later,” Shawn says as he scans the ridge-tops to the North. “Now, back to this ‘Hunting Magic’. Do you think these drawings are a map?” Shawn’s eyes flicker with excitement.
“A map of what? Of where the big deer are hiding? No, you’re going to have to work harder than that to find yourself a deer,” Lauren says. “The message here must be important, though, for a person to work so hard to tell it. This graffiti is art. Prehistoric rock art. And, so many ideas from the same picture can mean only one thing.” Lauren closes her eyes for a moment and says, “This prehistoric rock art is sacred!”
“I’m beat Lauren,” Shawn says stretching his arms over his head. “Let’s go to camp. You sound tired too. I think all this reading and learning has made you cranky.”
“Yeah, let’s take the advice we read and be comfortable with not knowing what they mean.”
Back at camp, Lauren digs out her single reference book and reads, “Neither Shoshone nor Arapahoe tribe has knowledge concerning the petroglyphs of the Wind River and Big Horn Basins. To these Indians they seem pre-historic.” She pauses and glances at her brother. “One old Shoshone in 1883 had this explanation,‘They are the work of Bo-he, a very beneficent mountain demon in human shape, who in former times would descend at night to warn Shoshones camped near the rocks of future dangers from their enemies. Waking at night, these hunters would hear mysterious tapping on a nearby rock. Bo-he, though invisible,would converse with them telling them how to guard against their enemies. He would return to the mountains passes before dawn. The hunters would find sharp flint with which the tracings had been made near the inscribed rock. They would carry these with them on their persons as charms to turn away evil.'”
“Wow!” Lauren says with a yawn and tucks her book under her bed-role. “Good night Shawn. Sweet dreams!” Lauren is asleep before the first stars come out, leaving Shawn alone listening for tapping and scraping on the nearby rock.