Here’s a mystery for you: What doesn’t exist but really does?
Unfortunately, it’s the site known as Painted Rocks in Yakima.
The area near the intersection of Powerhouse and Ackley roads in northwest Yakima has been a well-known archaeological treasure of Native American rock art.
The rocks, widely believed painted as long as 1,000 years ago by Native Americans here, were part of a county park set aside in 1924.
For more than 80 years, the site lured archaeologists, tourists, history buffs and schoolchildren, who came to look and wonder at the red and white symbols, or pictographs, painted on the sheer basalt columns.
They could gaze at about 60 different figures that resembled people, mountain goats, sunbursts and bear paws.
Archaeologists conjecture that the symbols depicted religious experiences, hunts or meetings. The basalt cliffs were situated along a well-traveled path between Ellensburg and Union Gap.
Johnson Meninick, with the Yakama Nation’s cultural resources program, described the rock art there as “sacred and sensitive monuments.”
Although no one could definitively say how old the Native American rock art was, it gave a fascinating look into life hundreds of years ago in the Valley.
But anyone who ventures past the area now can see no indication that there’s ageless, priceless rock art there; the locale is totally inaccessible.
That’s because in 2007 the park was dismantled.
That year, the state, with the agreement of Yakima County and the Yakama Nation, closed the park due to vandalism on the rocks. A year after that, stairs and a walkway were removed, the interpretive sign withdrawn and a “No trespassing” sign barred the way.
No one was in favor of closing the site; the decision, considered the lesser of two evils, was made with great regret.
After several years of discussion, the county, state and tribe concluded that the only way to save the Painted Rocks was to make them off-limits.
Brian Hovis, a planner with Washington State Parks in Olympia who grew up in Yakima, explained the dilemma at the time.
He said the artifacts were being destroyed by vandals bit by bit, and the reluctant conclusion was that the only way to preserve the site was to protect it from more vandalism.
So, what was once a tourist attraction is now a hidden treasure. But a protected one.