Petroglyph Lake

  • Moderate
  • 5-mile loop
  • 320 feet elevation gain
  • Open early May to mid-November
  • Use: hikers, horses

Little is known about the people who painted red spirals and animalistic figures on Oregon’s desert cliffs thousands of years ago. Because modern Oregon tribes have no similar painting traditions or legends, the petroglyphs may well be the work of a different people—a mysterious, earlier culture that hoped to communicate with the spirit world through symbolic messages at sacred sites. One of those sacred places must have been this small lake on the vast desert plateau atop Poker Jim Ridge. In what is now the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, nearly 100 drawings decorate the black basalt ledge ringing Petroglyph Lake’s western shore.

An interesting 5-mile tour of this trailless landscape skirts the spectacular rim of Poker Jim Ridge’s 1300-foot cliff before returning via Petroglyph Lake. To be sure, this is no hike for the disrespectful, nor for the ill prepared. Even the touch of a finger can damage the ancient paintings. And the desert in all directions is a rock-strewn flat of matted sagebrush with few landmarks. Antelope and deer race past with apparent ease, but hikers here will need long pants, good boots, strong ankles, and routefinding skills.

From Lakeview, drive …

… Thousands of years ago the lake was much higher, but today’s drier climate has left it ringed with an alkali beach. Walk the length of the cliff’s base to see the ancient paintings, but touch nothing!

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.