Hike This Free Nevada Trail to See Petroglyphs From More Than 3,000 Years Ago

The site is home to one of the oldest collections of Indigenous petroglyphs in the U.S.

Mount Irish Petroglyphs.
Photo: Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Humans have been on this planet a very, very long time. And a couple of hours outside of Las Vegas, there's a surprisingly mystical experience that can remind you of humans' deep connection with land.

About a two-hour drive north of Las Vegas, Mount Irish is home to one of America's oldest collections of petroglyphs. It's also one of the only Indigenous rock art sites left in Nevada. The cave art at Mount Irish is thought to date back to the year 1000 B.C.E. but it's estimated that people started living in the area in about 11,000 B.C.E.

Mount Irish Petroglyphs.
Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The archeological site is about 640 acres, which you can explore via different trails. At each of the three main rock art sites, you'll also be able to see evidence of the people who lived there thousands of years ago, like their shelters and tools.

Archaeologists are still unsure what the petroglyphs meant to the people who made them. "Were people drawn to the area seasonally by available resources, or did the area have a special social and cultural significance, marked by rock art, that explains why hunter-gatherers visited the area?" the Nevada Rock Art Foundation asked on its website.

Nevada, Caliente, Basin and Range National Monument, Mount Irish Petroglyphs Informational Sign
Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Nonetheless, archaeologists agree that the rock art is culturally significant and reflects the values of the people who once lived in this area. They were hunter-gatherers, so the rock art often portrays their main source of food: the bighorn sheep. Visitors will also spot symbols like water and spirals throughout the cave walls.

The petroglyphs are thought of as having both magical and religious significance, so of course, visitors are asked to avoid touching them. That way, maybe humans in another 3,000 years will be able to enjoy them, too.

Nevada, Caliente, Basin and Range National Monument, Mount Irish Petroglyphs.
Bernard Friel/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The site is surprisingly easy (and free) to access. While driving down U.S. Highway 318, you'll be directed to head down Logan Canyon Road. There is a barbed wire fence, which you must open and close yourself in order to access the site. Then you'll drive about nine miles down a rocky dirt road until you reach a large sign proclaiming that you've reached Mount Irish. You should also spot a metal box containing free maps and trail guides to the area.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.

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