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Rock art depicting a fish at Sunset Ranch.

The Archaeological Conservancy recently received a 2021 Conservation and Preservation Award from the American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA) for the recent acquisition and creation of their Sunset Ranch Petroglyph Preserve in west Texas.

Sunset Ranch Petroglyph Preserve is located southeast of El Paso, Texas, just a few miles north of the border with Mexico in Hudspeth County. The site contains thousands of petroglyphs along with a few interspersed pictographs. The petroglyphs are stylistically associated with images dating to the Archaic and Formative periods including the Jornada Mogollon culture. Researchers suggest some images may even contain elements of Casa Grande influence. Pictographs are located in rock shelters and thought to be Apache.

The petroglyphs are a part of a “cultural corridor” and include a combination of styles. The drawings are found on heavily patinated surfaces along a sandstone escarpment that extends several miles.

Deer image at Sunset Ranch. | The Archaeological Conservancy 2021

Pictographs are found in shelters created by fallen portions of the escarpment. One shelter has Chihuahua Polychrome paintings along with some unique, miniature Candelaria style images, which are only found in a small area of west Texas and northern Chihuahua. On the ceiling of one rock shelter, there is an elaborate composition of white pictographs containing a variety of images that include 26 linked figures that are five-feet tall, a nine-feet long centipede with 100 legs on each side, a goggle-eyed avian figure, and a five-feet tall anthropomorph with spots and a loin cloth.

Sketch of a white and red pictograph painted on one of rock shelters.

The Preserve also includes Jaguar Cave which is already part of the National Register area, and cliffs nearby contain numerous examples of Shumla style petroglyphs.

Pictograph from Jaguar Cave at Sunset Ranch.

Although no excavations have been conducted at Sunset Ranch, surveys have found projectile points, bed rock mortar holes, and a variety of pottery sherds. The area contains numerous other features and artifacts that are important for education and research possibilities. There are many reasons that make this site worthy of protection and preservation.

The Conservancy acquired the site in 2020 despite the challenges of doing business during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Local subdivision developer Alan Erickson donated four parcels of rock art consisting of 300 acres to The Archaeological Conservancy. The Conservancy launched a fundraiser to raise the remaining funds needed for surveys, taxes, and closing costs. Southwestern Regional Director Jim Walker was instrumental throughout the process working with various landowners, agencies, and organizations including the ARARA whose members Robert Mark, Evelyn Billo, and Marglyph Berrier consulted with Jim on the site. Despite the challenges involved, Jim remained focused on saving this important cultural site. This acquisition will ensure that the Preserve is protected from vandals and future development.

Shumla Style Petroglyph at Sunset Ranch. | The Archaeological Conservancy 2021

In his award nomination letter, Larry Loendorf states that “it is important to recognize that the Archaeological Conservancy took the initiative in obtaining appraisals, getting the land surveyed and in developing innovative ways to create the Sunset Ranch Preserve. This is not the first time the Conservancy has protected rock art sites. There are dozens of other rock art sites, from California to Wyoming, as stand-alone sites or as part of a larger archaeological complex, that have been protected by the Archaeological Conservancy. In fact, I am surprised that the Archaeological Conservancy has not been recognized by ARARA in the past for its conservation efforts.”

The Archaeological Conservancy is honored to be recognized by the ARARA and to accept this very special award. Next steps for the Preserve will be to implement a management plan and to begin formally recording the rock art for nomination to the National Register.

Bird figure carved into the cliffs at Sunset Ranch. | The Archaeological Conservancy 2021

The Archaeological Conservancy | 2021