Under the overhang of a rock shelter was a pictograph that reminded me of a marrano, the pudgy gingerbread pig you can buy in every good Mexican bakery. For the (pigless and gingerless) pre-Columbian artist this may have represented a mountain sheep. It had been drawn in white, presumably gypsum, and outlined in red ochre. Each “slash” at the head was framed with yellow ochre.
I roamed off to snoop around a promontory over the creek, a flat expanse of red sandstone. Though there was a fallen, turn-of-the-century Hispanic ruin just west of it, the place felt untouched since earth’s morning. So quiet, so scoured by water and time—only flowers and the bending grass.
Into a stiff wind and spits of rain we climbed high on a Triassic ridge. Among the gray mudstone was a spill of red ochre. One chunk was handy as a pencil: I tried it on a rock, thinking about how our Paleolithic ancestors used ochre to paint bodies for dance, delight and death.
Afterward I turned the rock over to hide that a human had left a mark in that remote place. The next good rain will wash it away.
Peralta Canyon, Jemez: pictographs in red ochre. Finger marks, in groups along ridges of rock next to the creek; one faint handprint; stars, turtles, and this pretty sun face.
Unlike those of the classic Zia symbol, all its rays are of equal length. The slanted ones may be feathers. It had been painted with a finger, and seemed to be subtly smiling.