High Desert Memories - A Hometown Journal Commemorating Ridgecrest California
Located between Ridgecrest and Trona along Hwy 178 on the left when headed toward Trona.
An artist's strange choice of canvas which has made a lasting landmark for the rest of us. The source of this artistry is identified below.
The tale as first told to a
Burroughs Grad in California
I can relate a story that was told to me five years ago about the original artist of the Fish Rocks. I was in Garberville, Ca camping with my family and went into town to do the laundry. As I was going about my tasks an elderly gentleman struck up a conversation with me about where I was from. When I told him I was originally from Ridgecrest he asked me if I had ever seen the Fish Rocks. When I told him I'd been by them many times he told me he had been in that area in the late 40's and had come upon those rocks in his travels. They reminded him of fish, so he painted the teeth and eyes that transformed the rocks into the images in his mind. He asked me if they were still there--he hadn't been back since the day he'd painted them. Now I don't know if he was telling me the truth or not, but for someone in that remote northern California town to know about Fish Rocks and Trona, it seemed to me he might be telling the truth. Anyway, that's the story for what it's worth.
Some time ago I received an email from the Fox Family of Ridgecrest in which they stated that Joe Fox himself painted these rocks the first time in the 40's . I am certain that his sons would know for sure about this so I am going to acknowledge their statement as fact. So for our purposes here Joe Fox was the original artist who painted the fish rocks.
A subsequent review of forum messages produced this from Classmates.
D'Laine and others, wanted to pass along some info about Fish Rocks. I was just in Ridgecrest for Easter and my father was telling me about the time my Grandfather, Joe Fox painted the eyes and the teeth on the rocks in Poison canyon.
As he tells it, in the thirties my grandfather was driving through Poison canyon and noticed that someone had scratched an eye on the surface of the largest fish rock. He went home to Ridgecrest got some paint and family members and returned to Poison canyon and "Painted the eyes and teeth" on the Fish Heads.
Since the thirties they have been re-painted with minor adaptations incorporated over the years. If you are old enough you might remember there were people living behind Fish Rock. They had a fence made of old car tires that stretched from Fish Rocks over to the hill to the North.
John Fox (1969)
As Told by The Fox Family of Ridgecrest
The picture at the right is a view of the fish rocks taken in 1934 before they were ever painted. It wasn't until some years later that Joe Fox was moved to add his own artistic touches to what has become a beloved landmark to the rest of us.
And here we are told that for a while they were erased!!!
I grew up in Ridgecrest, and remember seeing the Fish Rocks all my life. There is a story about the rocks that I remember that Iíd like to pass on to you.
Some time in the Ď70ís a group of young men (Boy Scouts or a similar group), went to Poison Canyon with buckets of paint. The graffiti in Poison Canyon had become an eyesore, and they had some paint that mimicked the coloring of the rocks. While painting over the graffiti, the boys also covered the paint on the Fish Rocks. I canít remember all of the details, but months later some girls from Trona went out and repainted the fish. As I remember the local Sheriff cited the girls for defacing the canyon. However; due to the fact that the Fish Rocks were so popular, and many locals expressed the fact that they were glad the Fish were back, the charges were later dropped.
So, there was a long period of time that the Fish Rocks were not in Poison Canyon, seems to me it was almost a year.
Jim and Janet Gorrono
Before - Ugly graffiti and lots of it!!!
After - Painted rocks!!
The teeth had been painted over but were restored by popular demand. (See excerpt from newspaper article below. ) The "72" had to go.
Took lots of effort to cover up all that grafitti but our intrepid cresw was "UP" to it!!!
From the Trona Argus dtd. March 8, 1972:
Rock painting, in Poison Canyon, on Hwy. 178 near Trona still holds attention of residents. Many of the residents are content with the compromise on leaving the white teeth painted on Fishhead Rocks and are equally content with painting over the other signs, some of them "nasties" on the rocks lining the canyon. Nancy Reed one of the artists who painted the teeth after similar ones had been painted over by Boy Scouts with paint furnished by the Bureau of Land Management, volunteered last week to paint out her own name, her class numeral, Trona High "72" and other names on the rocks.
I enjoyed your site about Fish Rocks. I lived in the area of Ridgecrest and Trona from 1958 to 1976. I remember when they painted out the graffiti in Poison Canyon. The color of the paint they chose really didn't match the rocks very well, and the result was that it looked worse than the graffiti.
Everyone I knew was infuriated that they had painted out Fish Rock, and we were all waiting for someone to paint it back again -- and so happy when it was done! Poison Canyon slowly filled with graffiti again, and although some people may have seen it as defacing the area, those of us who had lived there for years saw it just part of what Poison Canyon was.
Anyway, thanks for the photos. I'm taking my grandkids on a trip to Death Valley next weekend and wanted to show them some photos of what we'll be driving through on the way.
. . . and now from Nancy Reed herself!!!!
Nancy Reed here! I was surprised to see myself in the news after all these years. Yes, it was I who re-painted the Fish Rocks along with Claudia Grandjean. We got into a big heap of trouble over that little stunt. We were not arrested or cited we were just detained for questioning. A few weeks later the Chamber of Commerce in Trona decided our fate. They gave us a deal we couldn't refuse. If we painted over all the incidental artwork we could leave the fish rocks and not be in trouble any more. We were more than too happy to comply. I'm happy to say it had an influence on my life as I subsequently graduated from college with a degree in Criminology and have spent the past 23 years of my life as a Probation Officer. Hello to everyone in Trona!