Tag Archives: Winnemucca Lake rock art

rock art racing

14,800 years before present our ancestors scribe into Nevada stone this symbol

Twenty-one-thousand years ago San Francisco’s shoreline was four miles west of the Farallon Islands. Haight-Ashbury was in this era a distant 34 miles west of this desirable beachfront property. There are a lot of things I didn’t know in 1967. I didn’t know much about marijuana, why a girl wouldn’t shave her armpits, or what Donovan’s cryptic reference to “electrical banana” symbolized. In this era I was dashing about in my ’39 Chevy coupe, still much too young, too inexperienced, and all too sure I wasn’t ready to be sent to a war zone in Southeast Asia.

Those many thousands of years ago the Laurentide ice sheet was over two miles thick in what is now Quebec, to the west the Cordilleran ice sheet covered Alaska, British Columbia and much of Washington. This continental sized ice formation locked up vast quantities of the world’s water atop North American. The oceans of the world were four hundred feet lower than now.

Homo Sapien Flow Chart- A Theory

Squeezed between Siberia and Alaska, with the Bering Sea frozen over was a place that is now no more. Like the Summer of Love, the Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service all has vanished with the sweep of time.

Across Africa, Europe, and Asia an ever more capable animal, homo sapiens, a curious, imaginative creature trekked across Beringia, this now vanished land bridge and pushed east and south into North America.

I was a barefoot hippie teen. I camped out on the beach in Bolinas with my surfing mates. We’d build bonfires, smoke tobacco and drink beer. From out of San Francisco we’d tune our transistor radios to our tribes’ station out and sing our lungs out to Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction.

Twenty-one thousand years ago our first people of the America’s, paleo-Americans were with the sweep of time moving south along the Pacific coast. The further south our ancestors walked the warmer their world became. Ice, in this era, covered Alaska, British Columbia and most of Washington.

Picture from ’67 of my ’39 Chevy

Over the next four thousand years North America’s first immigrants, toiled their way southward until arriving at the Columbia River. Some of this tribe continued south along the coast while others headed up the Columbia River exploring the interior continent to the east. The extent of ice at the lower warmer latitudes was in retreat. Conditions were in this region more favorable for hunting and gathering. The great Chinook and Coho salmon runs choked the sea and rivers. Abundance was a cure for subsistence.

Because I had a boy’s instinctive inquisitive nature I learned in San Francisco there was a woman named Carol Doda, she worked at a strip club on Broadway, and that sailors on shore leave went to see her because she had a really big silicone enhanced bosom. My mom blushing tried explaining how breast enhancement surgery had triggered this new fad, how Miss Doda had become a worldwide sensation, how thrill seekers would pay good money so that they could say they saw the most famous pair of attractions to grace the City by the Bay. My adolescence was overwhelming. I found 1967 to be confusing, and like my mother I blushed. I was still too young and the world too wild. 

Geothermal Potential Lithium Source

When it comes to brains science informs that size isn’t everything. Over the last 200,000 years homo sapiens cranial capacity had remained unchanged. Researchers theorize that the brain’s backbone, its networking, this vast web of nerves evolved over the course of the next 130,000 years, neuron by neuron, brain cell by brain cell, in collaboration with the mysterious wisdom of nature itself and would acquire the evolutionary key to unlocking the power of the mind. Homo sapiens intellectual force like the lights on Broadway went fully present 70,000 years ago.

Fifty thousand years after the mind of man’s lights having been switched on, immigrants from somewhere near what we know as Korea moved into the Americas. With articulate hands these hunters could build stem pointed weapons, hunting tools, by now they had an expanded vocabulary and the capacity to not just describe the physical world but they could speak of interior experiences, how they were feeling, what they believed, what was true and what was not. Shelters were still temporary, they hunted and gathered, were able to build fires, cook what they’d killed. This was no small feat. Cooking enabled homo sapiens to digest more calories, quicker than their competitors, man was not yet the fiercest animal of prey. Mammoth, mastodon, giant sloth, saber tooth cat, and giant faced bears were formidable predators. Our ancestors still lived in a world where you could eat or be eaten.

Four hundred miles east of the Pacific Coast in what is now Idaho the Salmon River flows into the Snake River and then empties into the Columbia River. The first homo sapiens worked their way upriver and then struck out to the south around the Blue Mountains of Oregon to explore, hunt and gather in the Great Basin Desert. You’ll need to imagine a wetter and warmer place than now. Fresh water lakes, some more than one hundred miles in length, a thousand feet in depth, offered our first human explorers’ habitat well suited to hunting and gathering.

In January 1967 in Golden Gate Park at the Polo Fields the San Francisco Oracle announced there would be, “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In”. Psychedelic drugs had been outlawed, tensions between the city, state, and national government had erupted. America was a tumultuous brittle uptight tyranny against the impulses of a generation intent upon doing their own thing. Because of the war in Indochina there had been riots, teargassing, and brutal arrests. A massing psychedelically dosed counterculture turning on, tripping, participants experiencing an unanticipated jolt, expressing the psychedelic tripping as having opened their minds and given them access to a higher consciousness. For better or worse LSD  had induced a religious awakening, a tangible enlightening, the drug unlocked perceptions door and expanded their minds, enlarged their sense of soul. 

Our paleo-archaic ancestors hunting and gathering across the Great Basin fifteen hundred centuries ago possessed not just a sense of knowing that they know, but they also possessed imagination. A fully formed ability of such powers of mind that they could create symbols on rocks, and that these carvings are a sign that these people wanted those who would follow to know that they had a vibrant interior life, a penetrating self-awareness.

Sign of Man

The oldest rock art in North America not four hundred miles from the Polo Fields was discovered at Winnemucca Lake in Nevada and dates back 14,800 years before the present. This lithic artifact memorializes the soul of man. Out here on the shores of this now vanished lake our ancestors etched in stone symbols of their being here, knowing that they knew, that they were part of something larger than self, cosmic, some interior cognitive expansion, and they had finally found a way to cut into rock a sign that their people could leave to those who would come after.

And now look at us, the brawling politics and runaway technologies, the chaos and contempt, our tribes’ anger toward one another, our very survival hanging in the balance. Wildcatters in Nevada, near Winnemucca Rock, much like our ancient ancestors are in a race against time drilling down into the earth. Only this time we are cutting into the lithic not to announce humanity’s awakening, but to fend off our civilization’s climate change collapse. That is the remarkable journey of how we have arrived out here in Nevada hunting and gathering for the means to fending off our civilization’s end.

birth of imagination

16,000 years ago homo sapiens arrive

Bluefish Cave in the Yukon, now there was a place you could call home 24,000 years ago. There’s evidence the cave might have been used an ever more distant 40,000 years back in time, North America’s earliest immigrants crossing over from Siberia consolidated their foothold in this North American cave as others began immigrating south.

Use your imagination to play the homo sapiens game. First, remember earth has grown warmer and colder over these many tens of thousands of years. Plant communities advanced and retreated with climate’s variations, what seems like an uninhabitable cave in the frozen north has in certain periods of time provided an ideal environment for hunting and gathering. The advance of the ancients was not linear, ancestors explored and expand their presence across the continent only to retreat or perish because of incessant rain, persistent heat or cold, or unforeseen drought. Even hunter and gatherers are subject to immutable law of scarcity.

Imagine ingesting magic-mushrooms from atop Nevada’s Tohakum Peak then spending the day marveling southward below at the gleaming blue waters of Pyramid Lake. This sacred body of water is part of the Paiute Nation. If we turned back the clock of time 15,000 years, our ancestors had arrived and roamed this region, our ancient ancestors camped on the shores edge of this lake fishing, hunting and gathering edible and medicinal plants. Pyramid Lake is a mere remnant of Lake Lahontan, this larger lake wasn’t five miles in length, Lake Lahontan stretched out hundreds of miles north to south. From the high ground looking out, this is our ancestor’s homeland, from this vantage point the ancient people that arrived here could behold a lake as big as any in North America.

Winnemucca Lake Rock Art

Dominating the view to the west from Tohakum Peak were the Sierra Nevada’s snow and glaciers. At lower elevations occupying suitable habitat were limber pine, bristlecone pine, fox pine, western white pine, and giant sequoias. Lower still was the sagebrush steppe, and juniper trees. Lower still meadows of grass where could be found camels, giant sloth, tapirs, peccaries, bison, horse, donkey, mammoths and mastodon. Lurking in the shrouded bush were now extinct, giant short-faced bears, dire wolves, saber tooth cats, and the American cheetah. This was time of giant condors and saber tooth salmon. Isolated islands dotted the now vanished lake where white pelicans numbering in the millions fledged their chicks. It was from Lake Lahontan breed grounds that the white pelicans on broad powerful wings and soared to fish and explore the furthest regions of the America’s.

Our ancestors standing erect, hands guided by nature’s largest brain, a burdensome heavy high energy experimental organ, a mind able to fashion arrowheads, built fires, each advance in tool and skill increasing the advantaged probability of our species survival-supremacy was still not more than an untested vanity project. Fire, spears, arrows, and knives expanded the terrain suitable for prevailing over their competitors. This was not the Nevada of modern times, the shores of Lake Lahontan, this complex ecosystem was homeland where early man skillfully learned how to feed upon an uncultivated pristine wilderness, a life sustaining variety of indigenous flora and fauna.

Modern Man and Beast at Pyramid Lake

The human mind isn’t a mere mass of brain cells but is more like a complex interconnected information neural highway, each successive generation’s brain ripening into a more and more complex web of linked cognitive pathways. Linking the minds different hemispheres into a wholistic conscious force progressed, nudged ahead by evolution, over tens of thousands of years, this vast web of nerves, this system increasingly more connected, enabled deeper understanding, higher consciousness, and an ever expanding ability to speak. None of man’s competitors had a comparable vocabulary. 

If by some force of time machine magic, we could travel back 15,800 years, standing atop Tohakum Peak we would have been a privileged witness to our ancestor’s earliest demonstration of the ability of man to imagine, to be creative, to think in the abstract, from dreams in our mind to making actual linguistic/symbolic/shambolic patterns in rock. The sentience of the Winnemucca Lake rock art is less about the specific meaning of the symbols etched into stone, but more to do with our ancestors for the first time memorializing the fully realized birth of imagination. Our ancestors were still not more than middle of the food chain pack of tasty morsels; fierce strong jawed, sharp toothed and clawed predators remained the dominant existential force in the world of the hunter and hunted. Like arrow, fire, and speech man’s imagination would be tested, proving over the millennia that intelligence is a formidable adaptive power in the immutable Darwinian law of the survival of the fittest.

Lake Lahontan vanished 10,000 years ago

A journey of a thousand years, then another and another, for much of this time humankind’s advances were incremental, marginal. You know the storyline. Man’s consciousness eventually resulted in formalizing a set of teachable cognitive skills that we know as science. Taking pieces of what we learned from the many disciplines that have been developed empowered homo sapiens to invent, build and then dominate.

Here we are. This is what we have become. Because of our species use of fossil fuels we have arrived at a bend in the road. Our auspicious beginning is memorialized by our ancestors Winnemucca Lake rock art, the other end of this journey is more menacing, as lethal as any beast we have ever faced, it is an unseen phantom stalking the world, we call it by its name- climate emergency. We are racing toward an inflection point, where all of civilization, all of what we hold as irreplaceably sacred is tangled up in the fallibilities of man’s vices and virtues, tossing out the old ways and ever too slowly embracing new ways. The brilliant and clever homo sapiens are struggling to turnback the human experiment of life on earth from a fossil fuel induced collapse of civilization.

Beowawe Geothermal Generating Station

The ancients that inhabited what we now have named Nevada would not have known about the lithium buried in her soils, that a precocious South African would come to North America and build the world’s largest battery manufacturing facility, the paradigm shifting Gigafactory. That here in Nevada’s Great Basin desert there would be experimental geothermal wells drilled, that the power of these six mile deep wells would pull the earth’s molten cores heat up from her depths and will one day demonstrate the potential to provide an inexhaustible source of carbon free electricity, and then this briny water will bring minerals up from deep below and these vital minerals will be laden with more lithium and that emergent technologies, funded by philanthropic men with names such as Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg, will fund teams of scientists to devise a means of separating from the geothermal waters an inexhaustible supply of lithium that can be used to manufacture yet more Gigafactory batteries.

This is not fiction. Winnemucca Lake rock art is an original inflection point, 15,800 years since man arrived here and marked in rock this first moment, when our ancestors etched evidence in stone of mindfulness, to this present moment where humanity’s future now rests upon the fateful scientific engineering success of our cutting through more stone, this time with ever more at stake, with ever more skill, with the entire civilization’s survival quite literally at stake. Every last one of us have skin in this game, this is it, this is for the whole ball of wax, whether we can stay or must go, with the human experiment on the line, we have arrived in of all places back in Nevada searching for our salvation.