The Hole in the Ground petroglyphs occur, according to Luther Cressman (1937), “in an isolated spot … in the tortuous Owyhee Canyon.”
The truly wild-and-scenic Owyhee River winds north through the southern heart of the Malheur County in the southeast corner of Oregon, east of the Steens, the Trout Creek, and Oregon Canyon mountain ranges, until its impoundment as Lake Owyhee just shy of its confluence with the Snake River at today’s Idaho border.
The watery series of confluences and “tortuous” turnings carving through volcanic uplands reflect the Owyhee River's compelling pathway in use by animals and peoples for thousands of years. The petroglyphs, always near water, reflect in part the rich sequences of cultures of the peoples who traversed this terrain for millenia.
Hole in the Ground, as is true of most extensive sites in SE Oregon, is not a single site or discrete place, rather it extends with varying degrees of concentration along the river for a number of miles. Neither Cressman nor the Lorings (1983) visited the site. Both relied on photographs of earlier visitors to produce their published line drawings of some of the images at the locale with the densest and most diverse concentration. Cressman included an entire page of sketches and the Lorings illustrated thirteen panels.
The photo below and this album focuses on this site. (Photographs April 2014 by Douglas Beauchamp.) See NOTES following the photo.
Many thanks to Bill Crowell for his goodwill and insight during trip planning mode and for his valuable historical research on the Hole in the Ground Ranch, once owned by his god-parents and today a BLM-managed site.
1. Loring published in 1967 two photographs of panels by Horace Arment of Ontario in Screenings 16:2. Portland: OAS.
2. Myrtle Shock’s research is valuable regional background: 2002. Rock art and settlement in the Owyhee uplands of southeastern Oregon. Diss. University of Pittsburgh. 2007. A Regional Settlement System Approach to Petroglyphs; Application to Owyhee Uplands, Southeastern Oregon. In Great Basin Rock Art: Archaeological Perspectives. Angus R. Quinlan, ed. University of Nevada Press. (Chap 6:69-91.)
3. Vale BLM has over the years surveyed and mapped cultural resource locations, including petroglyph sites along the Owyhee River near Hole in the Ground, but does not provide information to the public
4. At the Watson site, a few miles downriver and south of the upper Lake Owyhee reservoir, the Bureau of Reclamation (Snake River office) in 2009-2012, under the leadership of archaeologist Jennifer Huang, conducted extensive second–phase documentation of hundreds of petroglyph boulders. Keo Boreson offers excellent overviews of Watson: 2007. The Study of a Rock Art in Southeastern Oregon in Great Basin Rock Art, noted above. 2012. Shield figure petroglyphs at the Watson Site, southeastern Oregon in Festschrift in honor of Max G. Pavesic. Journal of Northwest Anthropology. Memoir no. 7
5. For the archaeology of this region, check some of the technical reports from the Department of Anthropology, Washington State University - though unfortunately petroglyphs are ignored as landscape or cultural features.