Rancho Bernardo Style Rock Art

Throughout Poway, Rancho Bernardo and Escondido, native American rock art from the Kumeyaay and Luiseño can be found and if you know just where to look it isn’t very hard to find and see. Here is some of it, in the Rancho Bernardo area. These maze-like patterns have been described as unique — the “Rancho Bernardo Style”. 

While I like seeing and finding rock art and other artifacts like morteros, I’m not a keen “chaser” of them. I do appreciate them of course, for the sense of history and connection to a place that they give us.

In the instance of these pictographs it’s a well known site (or rather, area) that I heard about because I often take walks there — but it was entirely new to me that they’re visible with the naked eye right from the trail, until a friend pointed them out to me. That’s because it is all partially overgrown, and also more or less weathered. Some of it is barely visible, at all (3rd photo).

The area itself is fenced and protected* but on this day I had my 200-500mm telephoto lens with me to photograph some plants (I didn’t even expect pictographs!) and at 500mm, combined with some more or less heavy cropping later on, I was able to “get close enough” for the panels to be nicely visible in the photos.

While there is computer software available to really dramatically increase the visibility of such faint rock art (the best known one is called “DStretch“), this always comes with an extreme falsification of colors. Great for documentary purposes, but not very aesthetically pleasing!

Instead, I chose to simply increase the local contrast and definition on the rock art to bring it out more, using an adjustment brush in Lightroom, to increase “Texture” and via “Dehaze”, also definition. This alters color and exposure a little bit too, so I compensated for it accordingly, where necessary.

It was a nice “discovery” of something that had been there all the time, in plain sight, and made an area that I already like very much even more dear to me. Thanks for pointing these rocks out to me, Kevin! :)


*) (because of course it has been vandalized with graffiti in the past… some people just hate everything and need to ruin it all. This is why I kept the descriptions here rather vague and generic, even though these boulders are surely easy to identify.


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4 thoughts on “Rancho Bernardo Style Rock Art”

  1. These are amazing. They’re so much nicer than most rock art photos I see. I’ve tried to photograph pictographs in the Southwest and I found it very difficult. Kudos to you for producing these nicely contextual photos.

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