South Mountain Park in Phoenix is home to thousands of petroglyphs left behind primarily by people of the Hohokam prehistoric culture. A petroglyph is a type of “rock art” formed by pecking away the outer weathered layer of stone to expose the lighter stone beneath, thereby creating images. They consist of representations of life forms such as animals, birds, or people; geometric designs; and shapes or lines that may have had symbolic purposes.
What we know about the ancient Hohokam people of the Phoenix area:
- Hohokam roughly translates to “those who have gone”
- They inhabited central and southern Arizona from approximately AD 450 to 1450
- They probably did not reside in the South Mountains
- Evidence suggests they hunted, gathered plants and other resources, tended gardens or fields, conducted ceremonies, and made journeys here
It’s likely the South Mountains were sacred to the ancient Hohokam as they are to local tribal communities today. Rock art patterns may symbolize Hohokam activities or mark places that were important to them.
This rock formation bearing dozens of ancient petroglyphs is about 100 yards south of the Pima Canyon Trailhead parking lot.
Rock art can be found along these trails in South Mountain Park:
- Judith Tunnel Trail (accessible)
- Telegraph Pass Trail
- Kiwanis Trail
- Mormon Loop Trail
- Desert Classic
- Mormon Trail
- Holbert Trail
- Pyramid Trail
The Hohokam also left behind artifacts such as stone tools and pottery in various canyons within South Mountain Park. Some of these artifacts are now on display at Pueblo Grande Museum.
If you see petroglyphs, the best thing to do is take a picture from the trail. While it’s tempting, don’t touch them. The oils on our hands can damage the rock art. Staying on the trail is important for the wildlife habitat as well as for preserving the petroglyphs.
If you see pottery pieces or sharpened rock tools, they are the remnants of ancient Hohokam activities and should remain where you find them.
Help preserve these sites by following “leave no trace” principals. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
Because the Hohokam did not leave behind a written language, we are not certain of the meaning of the petroglyph symbols found on the rocks. That’s part of the thrill – pondering what they may have meant to the Hohokam or what a panel of symbols might mean to you.
Want to see some of the petroglyphs in South Mountain Park for yourself? Use this interactive map to find your way to the trails listed above: