Ron Hartemann steps into the wash at South Mountain Park and smiles.
"There they are," he says, pointing at a granite ledge.
They are "the dancers," perhaps the most famous petroglyph in and around South Mountain Park.
Stick figures hold hands. One has a cane. Others raise one arm. There are more symbols above and below. Some are indistinguishable, faded by time. Others resemble animals. Sheep. Snakes. Deer.
"We don’t really know what they mean," says Hartemann, a ranger who leads petroglyph discovery hikes in the park. "But walking up to something that may have been made 700 years ago is phenomenal."
There are no letters. No numbers. No alphabet. Just figures. Left by the Hohokam, this rock art of creatures, artifacts and geometric elements form a crude picture of what life must have been like 700 or 800 years ago in the desert.
The Hohokam made petroglyphs by pecking at the surface of a rock with another rock until a design emerged, exposing the lighter colored layer underneath.
A technique used also by Elvis, apparently, and someone named Johnson. "Johnson camp 1912" is chiseled on a boulder in the wash. No one knows who Johnson was. It’s a safe bet he wasn’t a Hohokam. Not far from this boulder, however, are many examples of authentic rock art. Circle clusters. A maze. A lizard. A turtle. Another lizard. A man. A fat lizard.
"They believed lizards to be from the underworld," Hartemann says. "They believed that before coming into this world they might have been lizards before."
Not all Hohokam art is as easily identifiable.
"This could be a shield, but I think it’s a bear claw," Hartemann says, pointing to faint lines coming out of a square.
"Every tribe has their own definition of these symbols; every tribe has their own interpretation," Hartemann says. "They left us these messages. They spent so much time doing these things. I could spend hours and hours every day just looking for petroglyphs. There’s so much to find."
How many? About 7,000 or so in South Mountain Park alone.
"I got into petroglyphs almost immediately," says Hartemann, a retired teacher from New Jersey who has been a park ranger for two years. "I think I’ve found about 2,000 of them, but I’m still looking. There are so many that I still haven’t found."
Joggers scamper by. A woman sits on a bench with her Pomeranian. Hikers. A mountain biker. All seem oblivious to the history that lies behind the boulders off trail.
"There’s such history in this park," says Hartemann, who describes himself as "59 going on 32." "I’m trying to come up with some new hikes that we haven’t done yet. So I have to go find more (petroglyphs)."
Not much of a hardship for Hartemann. "Getting paid to wander the mountains to find stuff," he says under his breath. "That’s not too bad."
• Never go off trail to get closer to petroglyphs unless led by a park ranger or other authorized guide. This can damage the mountain preserve and create trails that should not exist.
• Look but don’t touch. Minerals attached to the rock surface build the patina of the rock. Human fingers secrete oils, which damage this desert varnish and the petroglyph appearance.
• Don’t remove petroglyphs. It is against the law to remove, damage or destroy historic, prehistoric or geologic sites. Such vandalism carries a fine and penalty.
Adventure on tap
PIMA CANYON PETROGLYPH HIKE
When: 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday Where: 9002 S. 48th St., Pima Canyon — North Ramada (Ramada A), South Mountain Park Cost: $2 Information: Registration required. (602) 495-0222 or
BEVERLY CANYON PETROGLYPH HIKE
When: 8 to 11 a.m. Wednesday Where: Beverly Canyon Trailhead, South Mountain Park Cost: Free for Pueblo Grande Museum members, $5 for nonmembers Information: Registration required. (602) 495-0901 or
BOX CANYON PETROGLYPH HIKE
When: 8 to 11 a.m. Nov. 8
Where: Holbert Trailhead, South Mountain Park Cost: Free for Pueblo Grande Museum members, $5 for nonmembers Information: Registration required. (602) 495-0901 or
A HOHOKAM EXPERIENCE
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 15 Where: South Mountain Park Activity Complex, 10909 S, Central Ave., Holbert Trailhead Cost: $3 Information: Registration required. (602) 495-0222 or
WHITE TANKS MOUNTAINS PARK PETROGLYPH HIKE
When: 8 to 11 a.m. Nov. 30 Where: Park entrance, Olive Road Cost: Free for Pueblo Grande Museum members, $5 for nonmembers Information: Registration required. (602) 495-0901 or