Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 06:00 AM

Pen in Hand: Coso Range rock art film premiere: a special night in Downtown Tehachapi

Related Photos

Well-known archeologist Alan Garfinkel Gold, show above, partnered with documentary filmmaker Pal Goldsmith to make Talking Stone, The Rock Art of the Cosos. Photo courtesy of Jon Hammond

Tens of thousands of symbols like these are found in the Coso Range. Photo courtesy of Jon Hammond

Local Nuwa (Nawaiisu or Paiute) elder Harold Williams was interviewed for the film and will be at the premiere. Photo courtesy of Jon Hammond

Tens of thousands of symbols like these are found in the Coso Range. Photo courtesy of Jon Hammond

It's not often that Tehachapi is chosen as the location for a film to be shown to the public for the very first time, but that will be the case on Thursday, January 23 when a brand new documentary entitled Talking Stone, The Rock Art of the Cosos will be shown at Tehachapi's Hitching Post Theaters. This special world premiere has been arranged by the Tehachapi Heritage League, which assisted in the production of the hour-long movie.

The film explores the incredible concentration of petroglyphs found in the Coso Range, on the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, which is located near the Kern County community of Ridgecrest, about an hour and a half northeast of Tehachapi. Considered to be the largest display of rock art in North America, the Coso Range contains literally tens of thousands of symbols and designs carved into the dark basalt rocks of Mojave Desert canyons.

The film project was the result of a collaboration between archeologist Alan Garfinkel Gold and award-winning documentary filmmaker Paul Goldsmith, who earned an Emmy for his most recent television documentary. Gold is well-known in Tehachapi for co-authoring Handbook of the Kawaiisu with Nüwa (Kawaiisu or Paiute) elder Harold Williams, who also appears in the Coso rock art film.

Because the Coso Range is found deep within the confines of a highly secure military base, the petroglyphs have been subject to very little vandalism and visiting the sites is like stepping back in time thousands of years to the age in which they were made. I first went to the Coso Range on a Tehachapi Heritage League-sponsored tour when I was 12 years old, and each time I return, I still experience the same sense of wonder and awe at this starkly beautiful location and its abundant ancient rock art. I have learned more about these sites by reading books authored by my friend David Whitley, one of the world's leading authorities on rock art and the Coso Range, who also happens to live in Tehachapi.

In addition to beautiful footage of the Coso rock art, the film Talking Stone includes interviews with native basketmaker and author Justin Farmer, Sandy Rogers of the Maturango Museum, the late Kern Valley tribal leader Ron Wermuth (to whom the film is dedicated), and others.

The January 23 event will be more than just an airing of the film: the producer and others involved in the project will be introduced, and there will be a question-and-answer session, as well as a reception at the Tehachapi Museum featuring delicious refreshments from Downtown Tehachapi's popular Petra Mediterranean Cafe. With newly-installed seating as well as brand-new digital projection and sound equipment, the Hitching Post Theaters is a great location for this premiere and owner Will Viner graciously allowed the use of his theater as a fundraiser for the Heritage League.

Tickets for the 6 p.m. film premiere and the reception that follows are $15 with proceeds to benefit THL. It will be an interesting and special night in Downtown Tehachapi, and really, how often does a film have its premiere here? Right, almost never -- see ya there!

Have a good week.

Jon Hammond has written for the Tehachapi News for over 30 years. Send email to:


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