by Bill Drake, President of FSRA
for the Fall 2022 Newsletter

Bill Drake

When I take Friends of Sierra Rock Art members on outings to rock art sites, I have them gather just outside the site area before going in. After perhaps some educational information that can add to appreciating what is about to be experienced, I ask the group to remain silent for the first couple of minutes after we enter.

Several tendencies can keep us from meeting these sacred places in a conscious way. Americans, especially white Americans perhaps, which most of us our members are, tend to be oriented toward consumerism, which can lead to a collecting mentality. In terms of rock art, this can manifest itself as one more site to put on the list of sites visited. My friend Stan Padilla, a native artist and co-founder of FSRA, describes this as the “gimme gimme want wants.” We may also approach rock art sites as tourists, causing us to distance ourselves from the experience as we put our camera between us and the ancient images. Then there can be a tendency to chatter either out of habit in general or, in some cases, as a way to deal with being a little uncomfortable in a profound place.

So just two minutes. Two minutes to be quiet, to settle in, to really be present, to acknowledge a sacred space, to feel a sense of awe, to be grateful for the incredible opportunity to be there. Two minutes to acknowledge those ancient people who made their marks, and the contemporary native people (Washoe in our case) who consider the marks and the place special as part of their cultural and spiritual heritage. Two minutes to allow the images, the place, to touch us. Just two minutes.

Hopefully during that brief time this attitude of reverence and gratitude will be held. Since two minutes of silence is a lot for most of us (!), I don’t ask for more, but I do hope the attitude carries over for the rest of the visit.

Having addressed that aspect of a site visit, let me share a little about context. When we visit rock art, we see so much more when we consider its context.

What do I mean by the context of rock art? 

Let’s say you are captivated by an interesting image of what appears to represent a rattlesnake. Let’s say you photograph it so the photo can be put on your wall, or shared with friends. There is nothing wrong with that, but if that image was part of a group of images, it was taken out of the bigger context of the grouping or what we call the “panel.” While we will never really know what the image meant to its maker, to get a feel for it, it needs to be put in the context of its grouping. And while we do this – while we consider the whole group of figures – let us remember that thinking of it as “rock art” is misleading. It was created as something more than, or different than, “art” per se. While we are not ready to change the name of Friends of Sierra Rock Art, “rock imagery,” which some people are now using in place of “rock art” is at least a little better. Now, having that in mind, let us be careful about making too many interpretations of what we see. As local archaeologist and historian Hank Meals points out, firm interpretations can keep us from being open to other ways of looking at the images.

Then the panel, if there is one, is in the context of the immediate environment, which might be the rocks and trees in the immediate area. To just look at the panel, we take it out of that context.

Then beyond the immediate environment we have the overall landscape that is also part of the context for the rock imagery – for that rattlesnake image we started with.

And this big environment, this overall landscape, is pretty important. I believe that the ancient petroglyph makers lived within a sacred landscape that had great meaning. For an example of this today we can look to the Navajo in the Southwest. Their landscape is very sacred to them, and mountain peaks they can see as a part of their world have meaning and are connected to their origin myths and other stories.

I will address one more aspect of context: the mindset or the world view, of the Martis people or, in archaeological terms the “Martis Complex,” who left their marks on the rocks in our region.

What led them to make mostly abstract images? Why so few human forms and, when created, why like a simple stick figure? Why a clear preference for making petroglyphs on horizontal or gently sloping surfaces as opposed to vertical ones which are more commonly used in the southwest? What did these images mean to them? Many more questions can be asked. These are questions that have answers we will never know, questions that point us to the mystery of rock art.

I don’t think we need to stand at a site and mentally go through the layers of context….from rattlesnake image to the surrounding mountains to an ancient world view. That may be too much of a mental exercise. But knowing about it can help us hold it, feel it, in our awareness along with a sense of the mystery of it all. 

And when we do this, along with a sense of reverence and gratitude, we can meet rock imagery more consciously.

Bill Drake

Click on the the Winter – January 2022 image to download the FSRA Newsletter

Become a Member of FSRA!

A Membership in FSRA…

Allows you to be part of a community that supports the protection of rock art in the northern Sierra region in general, and on the Tahoe National Forest in particular. The TNF has dozens of petroglyph sites that date from 500AD to 2,000BC. FSRA has monitored them for over 30 years, while assisting with site surveys and recording. We also do public education and, at times, work with Native Americans and agencies besides the TNF. Membership support in the form of dues and, in some cases, volunteer hours, is essential for our ability to do this work.

Gives you the opportunity to experience these ancient images while learning about how we work to protect them and about the people that made them. Educational outings to sites are offered to members with an agreement that their locations are kept confidential. See our Code of Ethics, Confidentiality Agreement, and Release of Liability text below.

Offers the option of becoming a site monitor. Monitoring sites keeps FSRA and the TNF abreast of any changes at their locations and lets you have an intimate experience of these ancient markings.

Keeps you up-to-date on cultural resource protection and FSRA’s activities with our quarterly newsletter and occasional in-house emails. Your e-mail address & contact information is never given out to third-parties for any reason.

FSRA Work Party!

Download our 3-page Membership Form as a PDF file, which includes a Membership Application, Code of Ethics (text below), Confidentiality Agreement, & Release of Liability. Fill out the Application, write a check for the proper amount, and mail to the enclosed address. Thank You!


Members of Friends of Sierra Rock Art (FSRA) and guests participating in events sponsored by this organization shall adopt & promote a preservationist / conservationist ethic in regard to rock art, and all other archaeological resources by upholding the following:

  • Persons participating in FSRA events shall observe all applicable local, state, federal, and international antiquities laws.
  • Persons participating in FSRA events shall not damage or disturb archaeological sites or features in any way, nor collect or damage artifacts.
  • Persons participating in FSRA events shall not damage or disturb locations used by Native Americans for ceremonial or other traditional cultural activities.
  • Persons participating in FSRA events shall honor the confidentiality of site locations.
  • Membership in good standing in Friends of Sierra Rock Art shall be contingent upon compliance with the ethical standards of conduct stipulated in this section.


  1. AGREEMENT TO COMPLY WITH LAWS • I agree to comply with the basic ideas in: Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979, as amended • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended.
  2. CONFIDENTIALITY • I fully understand the confidential nature of archaeological, historical and paleontological sites and data and I agree to respect that confidentiality.
  3. NON-DISCLOSE • I will NOT DISCLOSE or SHARE SITE SPECIFIC INFORMATION without the prior and specific authorization of the landowner‐Agency Archaeologist. This includes (a) Locations (b) Maps (c) Photos‐Drawings (d) Narratives (e) UTM. I agree not to use any GPS information on any information I share. I further agree to not specifically identify any site/ location on any photograph I share including those posted to any form of social media.
  4. BORROWED DOCUMENTS • I agree to RETURN ALL DOCUMENTS BORROWED from the landowner, Agency and FSRA, annually, or when requested.


Friends of Sierra Rock Art (FSRA) is a volunteer organization operating for the purpose of helping to provide stewardship of Native American petroglyph and pictograph sites located in the region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and elsewhere. In furtherance of its purpose, FSRA sponsors field trips to various locations and other activities.

I (we) wish to participate in such field trips and other activities and understand the potential dangers incidental to participation in such activities, including outdoor activities.

In order to obtain permission from FSRA to participate in FSRA activities, I voluntarily release FSRA from any and all liability for personal injury, ailment, illness or combination thereof; property damage; or wrongful death arising out of or in connection with my participation in FSRA field trips and other activities.

Neither I nor my heirs will prosecute any claim for personal injury, ailment, illness or combination thereof; property damage; or wrongful death against FSRA, its directors, members, guests or agents, whether or not such claim arises out of negligence of said persons. If any person prosecutes a claim against FSRA which arises out of or is in connection with my participation in any FSRA activity, I/we (or my/our heirs) will indemnify FSRA and hold FSRA harmless from any such claim.