Land of Zion Wash Petroglyphs

This petroglyph site is a small one in the Sonoran desert. It is a dry and harsh area. Scattered among the heavily varnished boulders are a few Desert Abstract petroglyphs. I also found what appeared to be rock circles. Maybe this was a small village? This site is also known for a rock that is supposed to ring when you tap it. I didn’t tap on any rocks, but the area certainly has had some Native American activity.


A short hike from the petroglyphs is what looks like another village. This village, however, is a little more modern in origin. From the ruins, I could see that someone had once built a hideaway out there. Evidence on the ground points to it being built in the 1960s. They even built a dam to catch any meager rainwater that would have come down the wash. Someone put a lot of effort into this place. Only foundations remain today.

Foundations at the camp

Update February 20, 2015: My friend, Mohave, emailed me to relate some fascinating background information on "The Land of Zion":

A religious cult lived there for approximately 13 or 14 years, squatters on BLM land. The cult leader was Wilbur Donald Pickel (1919-1982). Pickel was born in Missouri, joined the Marines on 8-15-1938. He rose to the rank of Sergeant in a tank unit. There is no record of him being in combat. The Marines discharged him on 1-11-1944 for "disability, not own conduct", then he spent some time in the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Ft. Worth. I don’t know what he did between the war and the late 1960s. He established the cult and began constructing his … hide-away by 1967. All constructions materials, furnishings, and supplies had to be hand carried the last 1/4 mile. Size of the cult is unknown as well as who participated. A well-known trouble maker, he mailed many long, rambling and threatening letters to various people including to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. It eventually became a ‘honor’ to receive one. Tired of his squatting, the BLM kicked him out circa 1980. Later, at the request of the BLM, the Sheriff’s Bomb Squad took in five containers of gasoline and explosives to blow up and burn down all the buildings. (Burnt wood is visible in the foundation of the main home.) The home still contained furniture and appliances. The resultant fireball was so large that pilots of aircraft called in a possible plane crash. All the wreckage was removed. Pickel died on 9-2-1982 in Riverside, CA, and being a veteran, he is buried in the National Cemetery in Phoenix. These words are on his grave plaque: "A Prophet To The Nation". - "Mohave", February 20, 2015

Update August 2019: I received a few emails from one of the people who lived at the site. He relates that "Mt. Zion" was started in early 1961 as a divine refuge. It was a commune for the Pickel family and others for the next few decades. Wilbur Pickel built the first structure sometime around 1963 and stayed at the commune until his death in 1982. The BLM forced the remaining squatters off the site in 1985 and burned the site to the ground, as noted above.

I also learned that Pickel served in combat as a Tanker in Guadalcanal and other sites in the Pacific Theater. Combat affected him greatly.

The Way to Zion

It was an amazingly tough place to try and make a living. I’m told he was convinced that this Zion was a holy place of salvation and the only place where you could survive the destruction God would bring upon mankind.

The canyon beyond The Land of Zion holds possibilities for some future explorations.