Blythe Intaglios: The Impressive Anthropomorphic Geoglyphs of the Colorado Desert
The Blythe Intaglios, often called America’s Nazca Lines, are a series of gigantic geoglyphs found fifteen miles north of Blythe California in the Colorado Desert. In the Southwestern United States alone, there are over 600 intaglios (anthropomorphic geoglyphs), but what separates the ones near Blythe is their size and intricacy. In total, there are six figures in three different locations, all within 1,000 feet from one another, situated on two mesas. The geoglyphs depict drawings of humans, animals, objects, and geometric shapes, all of which can be seen from the air.
The Blythe geoglyphs were first discovered on November 12th, 1931 by army air corps pilot George Palmer while flying from the Hoover Damn to Los Angeles. His discovery led to a survey of the area, which resulted in the huge figures becoming classified as historical landmarks and referred to as “Giant Desert Figures.” Lacking funds due to the Depression, it would take until the 1950s to investigate the site further.
In 1952, the National Geographic Society and Smithsonian Institution sent a team of archaeologists to explore the intaglios, and an article appeared in the September issue of National Geographic with aerial photos. It would take another five years for the geoglyphs to be restored and fences erected in order to protect them from vandalism and damage. It should be noted that there is visible tire damage on some of the geoglyphs due to the area being used for desert training during WWII by General George S. Patton. Today the Blythe Intaglios are protected by two lines of fences and open to the public at all times as State Historic Monument No 101.
The anthropomorphic geoglyphs of the Colorado Desert are now protected with fences (Wikimedia Commons)
The creators of the Blythe Intaglios are believed to be Native Americans that lived along the Colorado River, but there is no agreement as to which tribes made them or why. One possibility put forward is that they were constructed by the Patayan, who occupied the region from ca. 700 to 1550 AD.
While the meaning behind the glyphs remains unknown, according to Native Mohave and Quechan tribes of the area, the human figures represent Mastamho, the Creator of Earth and all life, while the animal figures represent Hatakulya, one of two mountain lions/persons who played a role in the Creation story. In ancient times, ceremonial dances were held by natives in the area to honor the Creator of Life.
Since geoglyphs are difficult to date, it is impossible to know the age of when they were made, but they are estimated to be between 450 to 2,000 years old. In support of the latter, some of the giant figures are archaeologically associated with 2,000-year-old cliff dwellings. However, newer research by the University of California, Berkeley has dated them to around 900 AD.
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The Blythe Intaglios are situated in the barren landscape of the Colorado Desert (Google Maps)
The largest of the intaglios depicts a male figure or giant, measuring 171 feet. A secondary figure, measuring 102 feet from head to toe, is of a male with a distinct phallus. The last human figure is oriented north-south, its arms are outstretched, its feet pointing outward and has visible knees and elbows. It measures 105.6 feet from head to toe. The Fisherman intaglio depicts a man with a spear, two fish below him, and a sun and serpent above. It is the most controversial of the glyphs as some believe it was actually carved in the 1930’s although the prevailing view still is that it is much older.
One of the large anthropomorphic figures (Google Maps)
The animal figures are believed to be either horses or mountain lions. A snake intaglio depicts a rattlesnake whose eyes are captured in the form of two rocks. It measure 150 feet in length and has been damaged by vehicles over time.
One of the more controversial geoglyphs appears to depict a horse. (Google Maps)
If nothing else, the Blythe Glyphs are an expression of Native American art form and provide a window into the artistic abilities of the era. Whatever artist(s) made the Blythe geoglyphs did so by scraping away dark desert stones to reveal a lighter colored soil underneath. They outlined the symbols by heaping rocks pulled away from the center around the outside edges, creating sunken designs.
Some suggest these impressive ground carvings were intended to sacred messages to ancestors or drawings to gods. Indeed, from the ground, these geoglyphs are unremarkable and difficult, if not impossible, to decipher. From an aerial view, the images becomes unmistakable which is, of course, how they were first discovered. Boma Johnson, an archeologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Yuma, Arizona said he could not "think of a single [intaglio example] where [a person] could stand on a hill and look at [an intaglio in its entirety].” Today, the Blyth Intaglios rank among the largest of California’s Native American drawings and the likelihood of discovering similar, hidden geoglyphs out in the desert still remains a possibility.
Featured image: A Blythe Intaglio in the Colorado Desert. (Google Maps)
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