The Deer Valley Rock Art Center preserves, protects, and showcases over 1,500 ancient Native American petroglyphs. Most of the museum is outdoors, where you stroll along a dirt trail (don't wear high heels!) marked with signs pointing out a few of the petroglyphs and also species of native plants. The outdoor nature of this museum is what makes it most attractive for bringing children--they can walk, skip, hop, etc., instead of having to stand still. There is, however, a nice indoor exhibit area, in addition to the trail. The displays explain facts about petroglyphs, Native Americans, and desert plant and animal life. A short film gives a history of the area. My grandkids, however, were anxious to get outside to the petroglyph trail, so we skipped seeing most of the indoor exhibits.
The receptionist gave the kids a check sheet of specific petroglyphs to watch for, plus a clipboard and pen for marking them off once spotted. The kids were eager to find the petroglyphs listed on the sheet, so I'm happy the Center provided this little feature which piqued their interest. We were having a nice time strolling along the trail, yet it was an especially pleasant surprise when a Native American guide strolled up to us to explain some of the things we were seeing. (Guided tours don't happen on a daily basis, and we came on one of those days when there weren't any.)
The first thing we learned is that the petroglyphs are much easier to spot when they're in the shade--and he held an umbrella over one of the boulders to prove his point. Suddenly little figures appeared where only faint lines had been before. (The guide suggested that we return after 3pm for the best view--which is when the petroglyph hill moves into the shade.) We also learned why many of the petroglyphs are so faint--the newest ones are several hundred years old, and the oldest date back several thousand years. Petroglyphs are made by the artist's removing the outer DARK layer of rock to reveal an inner, LIGHTER-COLORED layer in the spots where the picture is to be. The longer the lighter-color layer stays exposed to the elements, the darker it becomes, and therefore, the contrast between the picture and the background rock diminishes with time. The petroglyphs range from simple spirals and squiggles to pictures of objects and animals (such as the "kissing deer" petroglyph, which the Deer Valley Rock Art Center uses for its logo.)
We also learned that the words "petroglyph" and "pictograph" aren't interchangeable. A pictograph is rock PAINTING, as opposed to rock ETCHING, which is done when making a petroglyph. When we finished the outdoor trail, we spent some time in the attractive gift shop, where prices were quite reasonable for small trinkets (like the package of stretchy, rubber snakes the kids picked out), but also included books, artwork, and Indian-made fine jewelry.