Montana Outdoors

January 24, 2011

A visit to an old painting

Filed under: Pictographs — Tags: , , , , — montucky @ 12:29 pm

In winter, when ice blocks the forest roads that lead up into the high country, it is pleasant sometimes to visit some of the lower valley areas on the Flathead Indian Reservation where there is interesting scenery

Old ranch road

Old ranch road

Spring-fed duck pond

Spring-fed pond above the river

and a large variety of wildlife.

Whistling swan

Whistling swans (the American race of the Tundra swan)

Big horn sheep

Big horn sheep

(The previous two photos are of interest, not because they are particularly good photos, but because they were taken only one minute apart, 180 degrees from each other.)

Last winter on one of those treks I came across a haunting piece of artwork on a very large rock along the river. (Some background can be found in a story I posted then, Pictograph, or Ancient Art…. I initially thought it was an old pictograph because there are some pictographs in the same general area (even though this one was quite different from the others and in a separate location). I contacted some of the authorities of the Tribe and told them of it and took one of their Wardens to see it. To my surprise, they had been unaware of it, but thought it was not an ancient pictograph but a much more recent creation than the others and seemed quite unconcerned about it. While I am certainly not an expert in that subject, I am still convinced that it was painted centuries ago.

A few days ago I made a hike into the same area to enjoy the landscape and revisit the painting, hopeful that it had survived the year without sustaining damage. (It is located in a place that does receive some traffic and its only protection comes from the fact that it is very small and easily overlooked by visitors.) I was happy to see that it has not been disturbed.

The artwork is small, about the size of a credit card. Here is a close-up photo:

Rock art

Here is a photo of the painting in it’s location on the rock (at the lower right) above the river, where the pair of rams perpetually gaze over the river toward the peaks beyond.

Rock art


  1. Pretty cool pictures! Nice art work on the rock…Thank you for sharing what you see in your part of the country. I have moved to wordpress..lets see if it works..


    Comment by mitambien — January 24, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

    • Your new site looks good! Welcome to WordPress! I hope you will like it.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

  2. I was amazed when you said it was the size of a credit card, I thought it was quite large til you said it wasn’t. WoW!
    There has to be a way to tell how old it is & if you find out, please let us all know… I’m very interested! =)


    Comment by Tricia — January 24, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    • If I am ever able to learn more about the painting I will certainly write a post about it, but it is difficult.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

  3. This is pretty darned interesting. On what basis did the “experts” determine the age of this pictograph. The size is really curious, as if it weren’t meant to be viewed by others. Perhaps a one person search for their identity. Who knows.
    What a marvelous world you live in!


    Comment by Bill — January 24, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    • I have had difficulty learning anything about this painting. The tribal person I talked to, as far as I know, just looked at the photo that I sent her. The warden was non-committal, although interested and appreciative and concerned about preserving anything of that nature, but not in a position to do much himself. I intend to continue trying to get someone with knowledge and interest to see it, possibly someone from the University. It is not easy.

      I think you are right that it was an artistic statement by an individual and not symbolic of anything else as may be the case of the larger pictographs in the area.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

  4. Wow, I hope it stays safe. What an amazing area that is! What is the temperature difference between the valleys and the high country?


    Comment by sandy — January 24, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

    • A rule of thumb is that if not affected by weather differences, the temperature is lower by about 4°F with each altitude increase of 1,000 feet. The tall peaks in this area are about 4,500 to 5,000 feet higher than the valley, so the temps there would be 15 to 20 degrees cooler. When the valley temps are at or just below freezing, that is quite a difference as far as snow melt and ice formation are concerned. The valley floor here now is just about bare: the peaks above have ten to twenty feet of snow.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

  5. I remember that post and story. It is so nice that it is left undisturbed. All of the photographs are so nice… sometimes bad is good. 🙂 I particularly like the last one.


    Comment by kcjewel — January 24, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

    • I’ve hiked there many times and each time there has been something interesting to see.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

  6. Interesting that you are finding stories on the rocks! It sure gets the imagination going. Fascinating place with the variety of wildlife in one spot.


    Comment by farmhouse stories — January 24, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

    • There are so many things there that draw me to the area. While hunting is allowed there (by tribal members only) it is controlled and not over hunted. The day of that visit there the snow had been melting and there were stretches of wet dirt that held very plan tracks of a bobcat who had preceded me down the road. It’s rare to see their tracks ad have prints good enough to be able to identify them.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

  7. Hi Montucky, Those photographs are terrific! I love the one of those Swans – crisp, and beautiful! Have a super day tomorrow!


    Comment by wildlifewatcher — January 24, 2011 @ 7:28 pm

    • I wish I could have gotten a little closer to the swans. I’m sure it was a pair. They are huge!


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  8. My, you do have the whistling birds there! Whistling swans! I’d love to hear them. I really like the photo of the Big horn sheep and the artwork. I just love the last photo, how breathtaking.


    Comment by Anna — January 24, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

    • I’m not sure where the swans got that name: I have never heard a whistling sound from them either vocally or from their flight. Their wingspread is enormous and when they flap their wings on take-off the sound of the wing tips striking the water can be heard at a long distance.

      I think you and Preston would really enjoy that area because of the many photo opportunities that always seem to be waiting there.


      Comment by montucky — January 24, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  9. looks like a great hike! lots to see and enjoy.


    Comment by silken — January 25, 2011 @ 7:43 am

    • You would enjoy hiking there, but maybe more in spring or fall.


      Comment by montucky — January 25, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

  10. Most of the photos of America we see here in Europe are photos of big cities with all the bright lights, skyscrapers, night life and so on, unless someone has found a small village along the road they traveled. Not much variation and rather predictable in the long run. These are photos of America’s serene beauty and it was a joy to see them.


    Comment by Staffan H — January 25, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    • Yes, my photos are all of the world outside the cities, and perhaps 80% of them are scenes that cannot be seen from travel in a motorized vehicle. I prefer to spend the majority of my time in the back country on foot and bring back photos as memories of those visits.


      Comment by montucky — January 25, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

  11. Great to catch up after a week or so. Really like the ranch road shot, simplistic and pleasing.

    For the rock art, I couldn’t tell from the photo but are the spread of dark specks growth on top of the paint or ‘holes’ from the texture of the rock. I’m no expert, but I would think that someone who has studied the field could age the painting based on the development of a patina over the top.
    In the end you may never know, but it sure is fun to think about.


    Comment by Daveabirding — January 25, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    • The specks appear to be from holes in the somewhat porous rock. I would love to attract the interest of someone who may be able to analyze the painting and determine what process was used to create it. It doesn’t appear to be any type of paint that I am familiar with, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any lichen growth over it.


      Comment by montucky — January 25, 2011 @ 9:51 pm

  12. If you could find out what material was used to paint the image, then you’d probably be able to date it. What’s the most likely thing in that area? Chalk? Some sort of pigment? I’m curious about the blue of the horns and eyes and nostril.

    It might be ancient, but the way it’s been painted looks to me to be modern (though, not being a native American, this is just a guess). Maybe someone sat there one day and just had to paint? Done in the Spring or whenever they have their young – adult and offspring. Looking towards the water or to a distant place?


    Comment by Val Erde — January 25, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

    • I have been unable to see any kind of brush marks or anything that might be flaking of the paint. There are other pictographs in the general area, but they are decidedly more primitive and were done on sheltered rock walls with a bright ochre pigment of some type. I think it might take an archaeologist to study it to give an understanding of how it was done, leading to an idea of when. Perhaps some day I will be able to find someone with that kind of knowledge.

      At first I thought the figures were of an old ram and a young one, but the head of the smaller one is that of a mature ram, leading me to believe that the artist intended to show two mature rams, the smaller one being off in the distance from the other.


      Comment by montucky — January 25, 2011 @ 9:57 pm

  13. Amazing art and LOVE those swans!


    Comment by Stacey Dawn — January 25, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

    • Sooner or later I will get a shot of those swans when they take off. Their wingspread is unbelievable!


      Comment by montucky — January 25, 2011 @ 11:09 pm

  14. It’s a beautiful little piece, I’m with you, i think it’s very old. You’re probably one of the few who has ever seen it.


    Comment by Candace — January 25, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

    • Yes, I doubt that very many have seen the painting. I still hope that I can find someone with the knowledge and interest necessary to determine what it is.


      Comment by montucky — January 25, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

  15. Ooops, so great.

    All the photos are beautiful, but to me three last photos pleased mostly.

    Big horn sheep, that is awesome photo.

    Rock painting. Do You know how old it is, any idea?

    Finally the last photo. That’s gorgeous to see those ice and snow remnants.


    Comment by sartenada — January 27, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

    • I am still trying to find someone in this area who has the knowledge and experience to tell the age of the painting. I really have no idea at all.


      Comment by montucky — January 28, 2011 @ 12:38 am

  16. It is a lovely little painting and I’m glad it has been undisturbed. Hopefully you will find the right person to take interest in it.


    Comment by kateri — January 29, 2011 @ 6:11 am

  17. The old ranch road image is my favorite from this series… something about it just speaks to me… the road winding into the picture draws me in and makes me want to follow it to who knows where! (love the story about the painting you found too)


    Comment by Victoria — February 6, 2011 @ 9:48 pm

    • I love that old road. Technically, it’s drivable with my Jeep, but who would drive it instead of hiking? It ends about 5 miles down river at the site of a very old logging site and there is a lot of wildlife in the area.


      Comment by montucky — February 6, 2011 @ 10:45 pm

  18. […] [Photograph: Montucky, Montana Outdoors blog, 'A visit to an old painting.] Montucky, 'A visit to an old painting,' January 24, 2011. […]


    Pingback by The 2011 Prairie Sagebrush Awards for blogging | Sage to Meadow — March 4, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  19. This post makes me dream of spring.
    Such a wonderful find, the rock painting. Thank you for sharing that with us, I hope it is still well.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Tammie — January 5, 2017 @ 1:16 am

    • I hope it is still well too. I haven’t visited there for two years. Perhaps next spring.


      Comment by montucky — January 5, 2017 @ 1:22 am

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