Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: The Blythe Intaglios

Out in the desert north of Blythe, CA, not far from the Colorado River, ancient native people cleared away the dark colored rock on the surface of flat plateaus to reveal the light colored gravel beneath it. In doing this, they “drew” a number of figures and designs. These are the Blythe Intaglios.

I’m staying in Quartzsite, AZ this month, about 35 minutes from the site. I’ve flown over it with my helicopter a handful of times starting at least 15 years ago. This time, I had a different aircraft with me, my Mavic Pro drone. I headed out about an hour before dawn to capture the site in first light.

As you might imagine, at 6:30 AM local time on a Monday morning, there wasn’t a crowd. In fact, other than a motor home that had obviously been parked overnight near the main road, I was the only one there. I got out with Penny and moved to the back of the truck to set up the drone with my iPad. I tried in vain to set up the Mavic for a live broadcast via Periscope, but the lowest quality image setting on the Mavic are still too high for Periscope and it just didn’t work. So I reset the video camera to 1080p — I seldom bother with 4K because my computer is too old and feeble to handle it — and launched.

In the east, the sun was struggling to get through some low, thin clouds. I should have waited, but I know from experience that sometimes waiting yields worse light. There was enough to see so I shot several flyby videos of all three fenced-in Intaglio areas. I think I flew for about 12-15 minutes before landing in the truck bed and downloading two of the videos to my iPad.

That’s when the light got good. I shut off the drone, popped out the battery, and snapped in a fresh one, then started up again I launched quickly and got the two shots you see here, along with a few others and some more flybys. This is exactly what I wanted: the figures in the foreground with the rugged desert mountains illuminated by the rising sun off in the distance. I flew for another 15 minutes or so.

The lower site has two fenced-off areas protecting three Intaglios. Can you see my truck in the photo?

Blythe Intaglios at first light.

The upper site has just one figure inside a fence. I suspect that due to the condition of the road (bumpy) and the fact that you really can’t see the figures from the ground, it has fewer visitors.

Blythe Intaglios with mountains in the distance.

The site is protected now, but should have been protected earlier, like in the 1970s when vandals added the tire tracks. The fences were added in the 1980s.

The site is on BLM land and is free to visit 24/7/365.

3 thoughts on “Snowbirding 2018 Postcards: The Blythe Intaglios

  1. This is what a Mavic was made for!
    Great images.
    These shots seem very old by my reckoning. In the UK we have the same problem dating these geoglyphs. (Long Man of Wilmington, Cerne Abbas Giant).
    I did the usual wiki search and came up with a range of dates from C19th CE to 900 to 1200 BCE. That is a big range!
    What these strange scratchings teach us is that we are not the first culture at this place, others (of whom we know nothing) had a sophisticated culture before us, and it is gone, without a trace. A humbling metaphor which should remind us of the extraordinary force of evolutionary time…

    • I agree. Drones were made for this kind of work. I never climbed more than 150 feet above the terrain.

      I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me to go to the place that I think I could get very good aerial images and see a “no drones“ sign there. They are shutting down space in so many places and often with no good reason. It was refreshing to be able to take the drone to a place like this and get the shots I wanted to.

      The saddest thing about this place is the destruction caused by vehicles rolling over the Geoglyphs. It’s such a shame that fences are required to keep people out. Surely people should know better, but they don’t.

What do you think?