Protecting Heritage Sites on the Carrizo Plain National Monument
The Carrizo Plain National Monument contains hundreds of significant cultural sites. These include everything from prehistoric Native American campsites that are as much as 10,000 years old to 19th century homesteads, some which were farmed and ranched into recent times. Many of the Carrizo sites have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The values of the spectacular Painted Rock site are obvious, but other important cultural sites also add to our understanding of life on the Carrizo, even if they may not immediately appear significant at first glance. Old farm buildings, machinery and implements, fence posts, water troughs and even historical period dump sites represent aspects of a way of life we are trying to preserve.
If you visit historical and cultural sites on the Carrizo, please help use preserve them for future generations by following the guidelines listed below:
- Don’t deface cultural sites by carving, painting, drawing or shooting.
- Don’t dig or otherwise disturb the ground surface in or near cultural sites.
- Don’t touch or climb sandstone outcrops, many of which contain cultural features. Contact with the sandstone damages the mineral crust which protects the stone from erosion.
- Don’t move, remove or arrange stones, wood or other features. The precise original location of objects is important to our understanding of their significance.
- Don’t damage historical buildings and objects by climbing or entering them.
- Don’t disturb nesting birds, bats or other wildlife.
- Don’t place caches in or near cultural sites.
- Please respect closure orders. These areas are closed to protect exceptionally sensitive cultural and natural resources. Unauthorized entry will be prosecuted under Federal regulations 43 CFR 8364.1 (d).
- Cultural sites on Federal lands are legally protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and violation could result in fines and imprisonment.
- Please assist us in protecting these often fragile and vulnerable places by being good stewards of your public lands.
Native Americans on the Carrizo Plain
Although the Carrizo Plain appears to be a dry, harsh environment, Native American people have occupied the area for at least the last 10,000 years. There is preliminary archaeological evidence that the peak of this occupation occurred during what is known as the Middle Period 000 to 800 years ago. During this time, the climate throughout the West was much wetter, and water was plentiful on the Carrizo Plain. Beginning about 1,200 to 800 years ago, there was a drying trend that resulted in drought throughout much of the world. Studies of Soda Lake soil samples have revealed this climactic pattern. Not surprisingly, the archaeological record on the Carrizo Plain shows fewer sites dating to this later period. Settlements appear to shift from relatively large sites located along drainages where there would have been flowing water during the Middle Period to smaller sites at better watered locations. Then, as now, climate and water sources were important influences on human history.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument lies primarily within the historical territory of the Chumash people. During prehistoric and contact times, the Chumash occupied the Channel Islands and coastal region of California from Malibu Canyon to San Luis Obispo and as well as the immediate inland areas. The Salinian, who lived north of the Chumash along the coast to the Salinas Valley, and inland within the Coast Range, also visited the Carrizo, as did the Yokuts who lived in the San Joaquin Valley to the east. The presence of pictograph sites like Painted Rock and other Native American spiritual sites on the Carrizo Plain indicate that this region has long held special values to these people. Their descendants continue to revere these places and visit them to conduct ceremonies and rituals.
The sandstone formation at Painted Rock has long drawn the attention of Carrizo Plain visitors. About 3,000 – 4,000 years ago, Native Americans began to paint their sacred images within the alcove of the rock. Not surprisingly, the power of this place continues to enthrall, and it still receives many visitors today.
Unfortunately, the attraction and accessibility of the site have also drawn the attention of peoples who didn’t appreciate the significance of the pictographs, or rock paintings, created by earlier Native Americans. The site sustained significant damage due to vandalism over the last century as a result. Measures have been taken to repair some of the damage but what has been lost can never be reclaimed. Management of the site is focused upon protection, preservation, public education and research, while respecting the Native American values of this sacred site.
VISITING PAINTED ROCK
Painted Rock may be visited as part of a BLM guided tour or with a self guided tour permit, according to the calendar below. (Reservations must be made at www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.)
- March 1 to July 15: Painted Rock is available to visitation only via BLM guided tours. No other form of public visitation is allowed during this time period.
- July 16 to end of February: Self-guided tour permit is available and required for unguided public access to Painted Rock.
BLM Guided Tours
During the spring and early summer, several threatened and endangered bird species nest within the rock outcrops throughout the Carrizo Plain including Painted Rock. As a result, these locations are closed to unguided public access at this time. BLM guided tours to Painted Rock are offered during this period. These docent-led tours are given every Saturday during March, April and May, and run from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM. This tour takes the visitor to the Soda Lake Overlook where information on the natural history of the Carrizo Plain is presented, as well as Painted Rock. Please keep in mind, during this tour you time within the alcove of Painted Rock can be limited/cut short due to nesting birds.
Self Guided Tour Permit
In order to better to safeguard sacred features while providing public access, permits may be obtained for unguided visitation. Through the permit application process, the visitor will be provided with information about how to appropriately visit Painted Rock to help insure that the site is protected and preserved while respecting Native American spiritual values. Permits are required for all visitation of Painted Rock from July 16 to the end of February.
BLM Guided Tour and Self Guided Tour Permit Reservations
BLM guided tour reservations and self-guided tour permits can be both booked either online or by phone at the numbers listed below through recreation.gov. Permits and tours booked either by phone or online through recreation.gov will be charged a $1.50 processing fee for each reservation.
When booking online at recreation.gov, search: Carrizo Plain National Monument; then click "Check Availability"; then select either the “Soda Lake/Painted Rock Tour” or the “Painted Rock Self Guided Tour”; then follow the instructions to complete the booking process. When making a BLM Guided Tour reservation, click on Soda Lake/Painted Rock Tour. When booking a self guided permit online, click on Painted Rock Self Guided Tour to obtain a permit.
Recreation.gov phone numbers
- Painted Rock BLM Guided Tour and Self Guided Tour Permit reservations (toll free): 1-877- 444-6777
- International reservations 518-885-3639
- TDD 1-877-833-6777
- Customer Service (toll free) 1-888-448-1474
Please Keep in Mind When Visiting Painted Rock
The Painted Rock pictograph site on the Carrizo Plain is recognized internationally as among the best examples of rock art in the world. It is visually stunning but also imbued with meaning and spiritual values still held by contemporary Native American people. When visiting this site, special care is necessary to insure the preservation of the rock paintings and in order to maintain respect for the sacred setting. We hope that you will have an opportunity to experience this special place. Please help us preserve and protect Painted Rock for the benefit of future generations through your stewardship.
Painted Rock has sustained much damage due to vandalism and weathering during the last century. Please help us preserve what remains of the pictographs at this significant site.
- Stay on the central dirt footpath within the alcove.
- Above all, don’t touch the rock surface anywhere at the site, even those areas where there are no visible paintings. The sandstone is extremely fragile, and contact with the surface may damage the mineral crust that protects the paintings and the rock surface from erosion.
- Don’t mark the rock surface anywhere at the site with scratching, drawing, painting, etc.
- Don’t climb or walk on any of the rock surfaces. These areas may contain paintings and this contact also damages the sandstone.
- Several species of birds nest and roost on the rock, both within the alcove and around the exterior. Please maintain a peaceful setting for their well being.
- Don’t move, stack or rearrange stones at the site.
- Don’t place stones or offerings within the cracks or ledges of the sandstone outcrop anywhere at the site.
- Don’t place caches at or around the site.
- Please respect closure notices. Due to nesting birds or other sensitive resource concerns, all or portions of the site may be sometimes closed.
- This site is under surveillance by BLM law enforcement personnel and unauthorized entry will be prosecuted under Federal regulations 43 CFR 8364.1 (d).
- Cultural sites on Federal lands like Painted Rock are all legally protected under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.. Violation could result in fines and imprisonment.
- Horses and pets are not allowed within the Painted Rock Exclusion Zone.
- Bicycles are limited to Painted Rock Road and the parking area.
Painted Rock Exclusion Zone
In order to protect sensitive cultural sites and wildlife habitat, the BLM has limited public access and prohibited livestock grazing, shooting, non-motorized bikes (except in the Painted Rock parking area), cache-type activities and campfires within this area. Pets and horses are also not allowed in this area. During the spring when several endangered and threatened bird species are nesting within the rocks, this area is completely closed to self-guided public access. For the remainder of the year, entry to parts of this area is limited to those individuals possessing valid Painted Rock self-guided tour tickets or who are participating in a BLM Guided Tour. Reservations may be made at recreation.gov.