Blythe Intaglios: The Impressive Anthropomorphic Geoglyphs of the Colorado Desert
The Blythe Intaglios, often called America’s Nazca Lines, are a series of gigantic geoglyphs found fifteen miles north of Blythe California in the Colorado Desert. In the Southwestern United States alone, there are over 600 intaglios (anthropomorphic geoglyphs), but what separates the ones near Blythe is their size and intricacy. In total, there are six figures in three different locations, all within 1,000 feet from one another, situated on two mesas. The geoglyphs depict drawings of humans, animals, objects, and geometric shapes, all of which can be seen from the air.
The Blythe geoglyphs were first discovered on November 12th, 1931 by army air corps pilot George Palmer while flying from the Hoover Damn to Los Angeles. His discovery led to a survey of the area, which resulted in the huge figures becoming classified as historical landmarks and referred to as “Giant Desert Figures.” Lacking funds due to the Depression, it would take until the 1950s to investigate the site further.
In 1952, the National Geographic Society and Smithsonian Institution sent a team of archaeologists to explore the intaglios, and an article appeared in the September issue of National Geographic with aerial photos. It would take another five years for the geoglyphs to be restored and fences erected in order to protect them from vandalism and damage. It should be noted that there is visible tire damage on some of the geoglyphs due to the area being used for desert training during WWII by General George S. Patton. Today the Blythe Intaglios are protected by two lines of fences and open to the public at all times as State Historic Monument No 101.
Some suggest these impressive ground carvings were intended to sacred messages to ancestors or drawings to gods. Indeed, from the ground, these geoglyphs are unremarkable and difficult, if not impossible, to decipher. From an aerial view, the images becomes unmistakable which is, of course, how they were first discovered. Boma Johnson, an archeologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Yuma, Arizona said he could not "think of a single [intaglio example] where [a person] could stand on a hill and look at [an intaglio in its entirety].” Today, the Blyth Intaglios rank among the largest of California’s Native American drawings and the likelihood of discovering similar, hidden geoglyphs out in the desert still remains a possibility.