Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs
View from hill above Lewiston and Clarkston
This Rock Art associated with Nez Perce and pre-Nez Perce tribes consists of hundreds of images in dense clusters dating from 4500 years ago. Some potentially historic ranching features on the Idaho side of the Snake River set a scene of the rural West. This is the most interesting petroglyph site I have been to. The main reason is the location is a spiritual place to just stand and look around and the artwork is hypnotizing. The method of carving into the rock here is mainly patination although on the Idaho side there is some later period pictograph art. Patination petroglyph is a pecking through the dark patina on the basalt bedrock characteristic of these areas. This patina, sometimes called desert varnish, is a brown to black stain that colors exposed rock surfaces. It occurs most often on stones in hot arid portions of the world. Some scientists suggest that this patina forms due to chemical weathering and leaching of iron and manganese oxides from the stone, while others hypothesize that airborne microorganisms oxidize these minerals and concentrate them on the rock surface. In either case, the process is a slow one and desert varnish takes considerable time to develop. When a petroglyph is pecked or carved through the patina on a rock surface, it exposes the lighter colored interior stone and creates a negative image, with the paler petroglyph showing on an otherwise dark background. If conditions for patina development still exist after the petroglyph is made, the newly exposed surfaces gradually begin to acquire the desert varnish. After a long period the design will be repatinated; it will have essentially the same patina as the unaltered rock face. Although repatination of petroglyph designs does not provide an absolute age (since exposure, temperature, humidity, and other factors influence the rate of patina formation), petroglyphs repatinating differently on the same surface are useful for creating a relative chronology. At Buffalo Eddy, Nesbitt (1968) described two rock art styles. A naturalistic style shown first in the pictures above with primarily mountain sheep, deer, and humans wearing horned headdresses, while a (lower rocks) "graphic" style is composed of triangles, circles, dots, and lines arranged in geometric patterns. At Buffalo Eddy, the naturalistic petroglyphs are usually repatinated, some very heavily. In contrast, the graphic designs are reported as fresher looking and cut through the patina on the rock surface. In this case, the naturalistic drawings of men and mountain sheep clearly seem older than the graphic geometric designs. A unique characteristic of some of the human depictions here is that human bodies are drawn with a triangle with wide side up. There is art on the rocks on both sides of the river, but you must bring a canoe or kayak or other boat to cross over. This is fairly easy crossing if you do it above the strong eddies and then follow the shore on the Idaho side to the left side of the rock masses where there is a nice landing beach. Follow the trails to see the petroglyphs. Get your boat off the beach as there are tour boats coming in all day in the summer. The land owner allows people to come, but expects them to stay on the trails, respect the property and basically help out with some of the sprinkler chores around the place. Observe the signs.
From Spokane take 195 to Pullman, then follow signs to Lewiston. At hill above Lewiston take the historical view pullout to see a great view. You will see two bridges below as you do in the first picture above. You are now in Idaho near the corner of Oregon and Washington. You must cross one of these bridges. It is easy to find them once you descend the hill since most roads lead to them. Then you will be in Clarkston. In Clarkston, Washington state, (get any food needs taken care of here since there is not much available south of here) look for signs to Asotin and 129 South. Asotin is about 5 miles from Clarkston. As soon as you get into Asotion which is a very small town, there is a sort of 4 way stop. Don't continue on South on 129 because it will take you away from the river. Go left and stay on the road that follows the river here called Snake River Road. You will be heading upstream. Go 15 more miles on this small narrow curving road to a place in the river where there are huge jumbles of rocks jutting out into the river on both sides. The views are better around each turn here. There is a large pullout above a nice white sand beach here for you to park in and then look downriver on your side of the river for a trail that takes you in 300 yards to the rocks. You must search for the art yourself, but this makes it fun.
Wear life jackets if you are going to attempt to cross where the eddies are strong. I suggest crossing above the strong eddies as there are stories of logs and people being sucked down here. There is a local story that a party in a canoe tried to steal a smaller boulder in their canoe and on the way back, the boulder, canoe, and paddlers sunk to the bottom. Be careful climbing on the rocks as the shapes are constantly varying and surprising. Do not climb on the rocks when not necessary as that could show disrespect for them. On the Washington side you must climb on the rocks to view them, but not on the Idaho side.
Rules & Law
picnic (no food sources nearby), water, camera.