One of the Blythe Intaglios, 2007
Location in California
|Nearest city||Blythe, California|
|Governing body||Bureau of Land Management|
|NRHP Reference #||75000452|
|Added to NRHP||August 22, 1975|
The Blythe Intaglios or Blythe Geoglyphs are a group of gigantic figures found on the ground near Blythe, California in the Colorado Desert. The intaglios are found east of the Big Maria Mountains, about 15 miles (24 km) north of downtown Blythe, just west of U.S. Highway 95 near the Colorado River. The largest human figure is 171 feet (52 m) long. The intaglios are best viewed from the air.
The geoglyphs or intaglios (anthropomorphic geoglyphs) were created by scraping away layers of darker rocks or pebbles to reveal a stratum of lighter-valued soil. While these "gravel pictographs" are found through the deserts of southeastern California, human figures are found only near the Colorado River. The figures are so immense that they were not observed by non-Indians until the 1930s. The set of geoglyphs includes several dozen figures and a labyrinth, thought to be ceremonial in nature. They are believed to date from 1000 CE but could range from 450 to 10,000 years old, and were most likely created by Mojave and Quechan Indians.
In 1932, a pilot flying between Las Vegas, Nevada and Blythe, California noticed the Blythe geoglyphs. His find led to a survey of the area by Arthur Woodward, Curator of History and Anthropology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
A late 19th century unpublished ethnographic report states that the Mojave people used to put some of their men into the center of the maze, leaving them to find their way out without crossing the windrows. Edward Curtis wrote in 1908 that, "It is believed that by running in and out through one of these immense labyrinths, one haunted with a dread [ghost] may bewilder the spirit occasioning it, and thus elude them."
Ethnographer Boma Johnson has tried to place the figures in context of Yuman oral history and cosmology. From this understanding, the figures portray mythic characters, and are often found where mythic events are thought to have occurred. Of the notable mythic figures is a 20- to 25- meter long humanoid figure located next to a second glyph, this of a quadruped resembling a mountain lion. Additionally, 18-foot (5.5 m)-tall figures bearing a likeness to Mastamho and Kataar, the "hero twins of the creation myth," can be seen near Fort Mojave in Arizona.
Of the nearly 60 sites containing humanoid figures, almost all of them have a deeply entrenched torso, while the limbs are much more shallowly etched into the surface. Often, the head and/or one or more arms of the figure will not have been represented at all. The largest human figure is 171 feet (52 m) long, while the smallest is 95 feet (29 m) long.
The majority of the Blythe geoglyphs are located 16 miles (26 km) north of Blythe, California, off Highway 95, at the Interstate 10 exit and down several dirt roads for 15.5 miles (24.9 km). An historical marker placed by the California Department of Public Works, Division of Highways, commemorates the site. Chain link fence surround several of the figures.
- Jones, Terry L. and Kathryn A. Klar. California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity. Lanham, MD: Rowman Altamira, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7591-1960-4.
- Olsen, Brad. Sacred Places North America: 108 Destinations. CCC Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-888729-13-9.
- Welfare, Simon and Fairley, John. Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1985. ISBN 978-0-00-217424-4.
- Blythe Intaglios, photo gallery, James Q. Jacobs
- Bureau of Land Management-Arizona Office