Fish Rocks Of Trona: Folk Art On A Geologic Scale

Paint Them Up, Yum!

(images via: David Cole and Mike McCormack/Panoramio)

The painted rocks didn’t display much in the way of personality or detail at first. Joe Fox wasn’t an artist by profession and paint wasn’t cheap, at least not in the quantities needed to “flesh out” each and every one of the van-sized rocks. That would change over the succeeding decades, however, as the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not article had both brought the formation to national attention while bringing tourists to Trona expressly to visit the site. Doubtless some were less than impressed after driving all that way and took it upon themselves to assist the formation in reaching its fully fishy potential.

(image via: Rachael Moore)

Unfortunately, with more people visiting an isolated site whose main claim to fame was its spontaneous human artistry, an explosion of graffiti soon began to encroach upon the respectful enhancements to the rocks’ fish-like features. The vandalism wasn’t just tourist-perpetrated: one outstanding example of graffiti read Trona High ’72. Troubled by the “nasty” import of some of the graffiti, in early March 1972 an area Boy Scout troop supplied with paint by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) painted over ALL non-natural markings on the Fish Rocks.

(images via: High Desert Memories and Lori Carey/Google+)

Call it a case of swatting a fly with a sledgehammer or throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but long-time Trona residents who had grown up with the Fish Rocks missed their frightening yet familiar painted glares and snarls. Two local girls, Nancy Reed and Claudia Grandjean, took it upon themselves to repaint the post-Joe Fox white eyes and teeth one day. The Trona Chamber of Commerce was not amused though eventually a compromise was reached: Reed and Grandjean would escape discipline if they painted out any extraneous graffiti on the site. Win win! Don’t get any ideas about doing the same, by the way: current law states “Anyone found painting on the rocks without permission will be cited for malicious mischief, a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500 and 6 months in County Jail.”

(image via: Albert Krabbe)

Forty years on, the Fish Rocks still sport regularly renewed toothy expressions while other painted vandalism remains invisible, at least from afar. Check ’em out if you’re in the area and don’t be afraid: as fearsome as they look, the Fish Rocks in Trona aren’t biting today.