Jason and Tiffany's Excellent Adventure
"Be careful on those rocks! I don't want you breaking your leg!" Jason and Tiffany scampered across the smooth rock domes as their Mom called after them. The rocks were like huge turtle shells, crisscrossed with little cracks. Their surfaces gleamed in the bright sunlight and the strange terrain almost seemed like the surface of another world.
It was a pretty Saturday in June, the beginning of summer vacation. Jason and Tiffany's parents had taken them for a drive to Petit Jean State Park. They were going to hike trails and then have lunch at the lodge! Dad stopped at the visitor's center on the way in to the park to get a trail map. One of the trails was easy hiking and it led to a huge cave. The cave had Indian paintings on the walls, so the family decided to go there. Driving to a parking lot near the trail head, they found a big sign pointing the way. Just beyond the sign were the "turtle rocks" they had to cross to reach the trail. The rocks were so big and so smooth the kids just couldn't resist running across them. The bare surface sloped down toward a wooded area, but after a minute Jason and Tiffany weren't certain which way to go. They waited until their parents caught up, and Mom found a painted arrow that directed them to a spot at the edge of the rocks where a narrow stone staircase led down to a dirt trail.
The trail wound its way through the dark, cool forest. As the family walked single-file along the path, Tiffany listened to birds chattering in the distance and Jason saw a squirrel leap from a thicket and disappear up the trunk of a tree. They began to wonder if Indians had ever walked this trail. "I don't think so," said Dad. "These trails were made during the Great Depression in the 1930s by people who were able to make some money working for a government program called the Civilian Conservation Corps. Back then, the CCC did a lot of work in state and national parks. But I'll bet there were Indians here before that!"
Soon the trail turned uphill toward a sunlit opening. There a big red sign greeted the family; it said they were at Rock House Cave and a message urged them to be respectful of the prehistoric Indian rock art and not to touch it. No campfires allowed! Behind the sign an immense rock wall rose straight from the ground to the height of a three-story building. A huge cave cut into the wall; it was so big that in its center was a pile of boulders the size of cars. Some were as big as trucks! Mom grabbed Jason's arm just as he turned toward the rocks. "Oh, no you don't," she said. "You'll fall and break your neck!"
Dad led the family into the cave. The floor was covered with fine, powdery silt that threw little clouds of dust into the air with nearly every step. You could see where people had walked along the walls. "That must be where you can see the paintings," Tiffany thought. "Gee, I don't see anything at all," said Dad. Jason and Tiffany stared at the walls but could only pick out cracks and streaks that looked like rust stains. They were pretty disappointed, until Mom cried out, "Hey! Here's one!" Everyone ran over, raising a huge cloud of dust. "Take it easy," said Mom. "Look, right here about six feet high, where the wall begins to slope up toward the roof." They stared at the spot Mom pointed at, but still nothing appeared. Just as Dad said, "Oh, yeah," Tiffany's eyes picked out a faint red streak, about the width of her finger. Suddenly the image came into focus: Four parallel lines pointing upward with another line at the bottom pointing to the left. Jason saw it, too. "What is it?" he said. "Maybe a headdress?" "No, it looks like a hand," said Tiffany. "Yes, it's a hand," said Mom. "But why would someone draw a picture of their hand?" "Well," said Dad, "maybe it was like writing your name, to show you were here." "But the red sign says you're not supposed to do that," said Jason. "I think the sign means that we're not supposed to write our names on the walls," said Mom. "If everyone wrote on the walls, you wouldn't be able to see the Indian paintings. They are faint enough as it is."
"Look, here's another one," cried Jason. "Over here, right above me." "Wow," said Tiffany. "It looks like a square with some dots inside and lines poking out to the right. And look, the lines are pointing to a stick figure of a person! What could that be?"
"I found another one," said Dad. "This one is really neat. See it? It's a double-line figure that looks like an upside-down jar or something. You really have to know what to look for to find these things, but they sure are interesting. There must be dozens of old pictures in here. There's one that looks like an animal." "They are very faint," said Mom. "I suppose that's because they're so old. I wonder how old they are? Maybe we can ask someone at the visitor's center on the way out."
"How did the Indians make these pictures? They look like they are painted on the walls and each one is red. Where did they get the paint?" said Tiffany. "Yeah," said Jason, "and I wonder why the Indians made them? There are lots of them here. Maybe this was a special place." "Indians had lots of ceremonies," said Mom. "These might have something to do with their ceremonies." Jason wondered: "So, maybe this was like a church for the Indians?" "Could be," said Dad. "That's probably why the sign says that we should be respectful in here."
Tiffany, Jason, and their parents spent another hour looking at the paintings. Many were so faded that they were now only smudges. Some remained quite clear, but even so it was hard to identify their shapes. It was as if they were looking at a strange form of picture writing from another world. Jason wondered what it must have been like to live in that world. He wondered if kids his age made some of the paintings. Many were high up on the walls and ceilings, well out of his reach, but a few were down low. He was tempted to touch them, but he realized they were very special so he resisted the urge and obeyed the warning on the sign. Still, it would be cool to know who made them and why.
"Hey, I'm getting hungry," said Dad, after they had looked at quite a few of the ancient paintings. "Let's go get something to eat. Maybe someone up at the lodge can tell us about the rock art." "Alright, let's go kids," said Mom. "We sure had an interesting time looking at the rock art. Maybe you'll learn more about this in school next year." Jason's thoughts were filled with images of ancient Indians as his family hiked back up the trail. He picked up a stick and began to thrust it, as if it were a spear, at an imaginary animal. "Put that down before you poke an eye out!" yelled his Mom. "Oh, okay," said Jason, as he jumped back on the turtle rocks and dashed off toward the car.
- What is rock art? How was the rock art described in this story made?
- Who made the rock art at Rock House Cave?
- Why do you think it was made?
- How old is the rock art at Rock House Cave? Does the story contain any clues that permit us to guess how old it is?
- Why do you think people shouldn't touch or harm rock art?
Contributed by: George Sabo III, Arkansas Archeological Survey