Visiting Safe Harbor’s petroglyphs during a low water event

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 2, I had a once-a-year opportunity to venture out to see the petroglyphs at Safe Harbor during a scheduled water drawdown as Holtwood was performing some safety projects.

Leaving the Conestoga for the waters of the Susquehanna.

The photo below on the left shows me standing on Little Indian Rock with the river four to five feet lower than usual. The image on the right shows Little Indian Rock before Holtwood Dam was built. I was standing on the ledge below the two figures.

As we departed on our aquatic adventure from the Safe Harbor canoe launch, Brookfield Renewable’s website reported lake level was 164 feet. As a point of reference, it is currently168.54 feet as of this moment. You can see the current height here.

What some people don’t know is that there are more petroglyphs than what’s visible. The lake created by the Holtwood dam in the early 1900s and Safe Harbor in 1930 submerged many of them. With significantly less water in Lake Aldred this week, it was my hope to see some of them.

I’ve visited the petroglyphs at Litle and Big Indian Rock before, but it was a more difficult journey than usual. Perhaps because this was my first trip in a canoe, or it might have been the low water rushing around the newly exposed rocks. Despite nearly tipping over, we safely reached Little Indian Rock.

I was surprised by two things. First, getting to the top now required some minor bouldering skills. Second, the amount of mud covering the usually drowned rocks. I would have needed a pressure washer to cut through all the sludge. However, I did uncover one stick figure using my small plastic bucket.

Regardless of water-height, the petroglyphs were awe-inspiring as laways. They are likely the oldest human-made artifact in Lancaster County, being at least hundreds of years old, if not thousands.

When I visit, what resonates with me is knowing I’m standing in the exact same spot our early human ancestors did. Furthermore, when looking west, what I’m seeing and what those Native Americans saw all those centuries ago is basically the same.

Man in a canoe?

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