Grimes Point Petroglyph Trail (Grimes Point Archaeological Area, NV)

Grimes Point Petroglyph Trail, Grimes Point Archaeological Area, September 2020

For travelers driving Nevada’s Highway 50—the “Loneliest Road in America”—Grimes Point is an excellent spot to get out and stretch your legs, taking advantage of a short trail to a fantastic set of ancient petroglyphs. Undoubtedly more vivid and more interesting than Hickison Petroglyphs, which is roughly 125 miles to the east, these etchings in the basalt rock date to around 6,000-7,000 years old. When they were carved, this area was a lush marshland, replete with freshwater lakes, a stark contrast with the landscape today—sagebrush-laden desert flats, typical of much of Nevada’s Great Basin.

A short interpretive trail at Grimes Point Archaeological Area circumnavigates a cluster of basalt boulders and offers several informative waysides that detail the natural and human history of the area. The brief stem-and-loop is best done—perhaps like all hikes—when it is not too hot, as the entire hike is exposed with no shade to protect against the scorching summer sun.

The hike

Grimes Point Archaeological Area is situated just off Highway 50, about 10 miles southeast of Fallon, Nevada. The same turnoff from Highway 50 also leads to nearby Hidden Cave, another archaeological site. There is a well-developed parking area at Grimes Point, complete with restrooms and plenty of information kiosks.

Start of Grimes Point Petroglyph Trail

The gravel trail begins at a cut in the short, stony wall to the left of the restrooms, and then gradually climbs amid sagebrush and creosote bushes, which are ubiquitous in the Great Basin Desert. In about 50 yards, the trail forks, with the intersecting Overlook Trail heading off to the right. (Note: This steep spur trail climbs to the summit of a nearby hill, offering views of Lahontan Valley. It is excluded from this description but probably a worthwhile detour if it is not blazing hot.) Continue left on the Grimes Point Petroglyph Trail.

After a gentle climb, the first petroglyphs begin to appear amid the rock field of basalt boulders. The first of several interpretive signs—titled “Lasting Impressions”—helps visitors point out and interpret the carvings. The pockmarked holes in the nearby boulder are potentially up to 7,000 years old and typify what archaeologists have dubbed the “Pit and Groove” technique. There are also etched lines—much more common—that date to around 1,000-1,500 B.C. and take on the “Great Basin Pecked” style.

Steps later, hikers arrive at a second sign—“Marks of Time”—and there are distant petroglyphs on the boulders off to the left. Archaeologists believe that, rather than writing, petroglyphs at Grimes Point are instead a form of drawings, or rock art. By now, hikers can also see northwest across the vast basin of Lahontan Valley and the Carson Sink: this area was once part of the vast Lake Lahontan, which once blanketed around 8,500 squares miles but was mostly dried up by 9,000 years ago.

Basalt boulders at Grimes Point

Petroglyphs—and occasional pictographs—become increasingly visible as the trail continues past a junction at 1/10 mile. This is the start of the loop section; head left first to complete the circuit in a clockwise direction. Several more informative markers tell the story of Lake Lahontan and the rock drawings at Grimes Point. Yet archaeologists remain puzzled by the meaning of many of the etchings: some clearly resemble snakes and potentially human figures, but others are considerably vaguer and open to interpretation.

As the trail edges northward, then southeast, it reaches the trail’s high point at about ¼ mile. From here the path descends gradually, passing the start of the Overlook Connector Trail on the right and then returning to the start of the loop. Bear left and continue down the original stem section to return to the parking area.

More petroglyphs at Grimes Point

The entire hike takes around 20-30 minutes, although curious hikers and budding archaeologists—seeking to spot as many petroglyphs as possible—could spend hours at the site. Grimes Point is well-worth the stop for travelers transiting Highway 50 across central Nevada.

Smoke-filled Lahontan Valley

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