Rock on: Friends of Sierra Rock Art Celebrate a Milestone
Since 1990, Friends of Sierra Rock Art has worked diligently to protect the ancient petroglyphs found in the Tahoe National Forest.
“In addition to working to protect rock art sites,” said Friends of Sierra Rock Art founder Bill Drake, “we do public education and have done other work in the past on rock art. county ordinance in cultural resources and many other things.”
With a background in teaching Native American studies, Drake was encouraged to seek out like-minded ancient art keepers 32 years ago after discovering an ancient petroglyph site in the high Sierra.
“I experienced this site and it was just a very deep place,” Drake said, “a very deep place, and the fact that there were ancient petroglyphs in our area here was very amazing to me.”
Shortly after, Drake saw a front-page article in the Sacramento Bee which described the site without identifying its exact location – the location of many similar sites is being kept confidential – which discussed efforts by a group of archaeologists to restore the panel. Some parts had been stolen.
“I was stunned to realize there had been vandalism on this site that I had come to care about,” Drake said. “So I started communicating with some of the people quoted in the article and one of the archaeologists recommended that I speak to Tahoe National Forest forest archaeologist Dick Markley.
“A friend and I went to meet Markley and he liked the volunteers and he encouraged me to work on starting a group that would protect these ancient sites. So in 1990 we had our first encounter with a small group of archaeologists and others and from there we became the Friends of the Rock Art of the Sierra.
Friends of Sierra Rock Art continue to work closely with archaeologists in the Tahoe National Forest who guide them to many of the sites they strive to protect. Drake said there are dozens of ancient sites in the territory, most of which date from 500 AD to 2000 BC, and most of which were created by ancestors of the Washoe tribe, although there are also works created by the Nisenan.
In 1996, the nonprofit organization received the Helen C. Smith Award from the Society for California Archeology and was the first non-professional group to receive such recognition for its contributions.
Friday night at 7:00 p.m., Drake and the rest of the Friends of Sierra Rock Art will host a celebratory rally at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. COVID has kept them from celebrating their official 30th anniversary, but they’re ready to welcome community members for an event that will include festivities as well as education about the Friends’ history and ongoing efforts. Special guests will include former Tahoe National Forest archaeologist Dick Markley, retired district archaeologist Bill Slater and Native American artist Stan Padilla.
Everyone is invited to attend the Friday evening celebration. For more information, visit sierrarockart.com.
Jennifer Nobles is a writer for The Union. She can be contacted at [email protected]