I first visited this site near Reef Bay St John USVI in 2014 to find a young gentleman enjoying this serene spot. We exchanged a few pleasantries for five minutes or so when he noticed my camera and offered to move so I could get a better shot of the petroglyphs. I sheepishly explained that I’d been trying to think of a polite way to take his picture as he looked perfect sitting there. He obliged by posing for several photos, then explained that he could trace his lineage to the Taino Amerindians who carved these images sometime between AD 900 and 1200.
I’ve been back several times, as this is a special place.
Indigenous Americans, including those of the Caribbean, believe that the natural world and the supernatural world are intricately intertwined. They hold high regard for their ancestors and believe that communication with them is possible. Ceramic artwork found in archeological sites in Puerto Rico depict human faces with bat noses, odd perhaps, but this makes perfect sense if one believes the human spirit can physically cross from the supernatural side to the natural side in the form of a bat. In Taino culture, bats were respected, revered, and feared. Is it a coincidence that the petroglyphs in this area are all in caves or adjacent to pools of water? Nope. Where do bats hang out? In caves and, in the evening, over pools of water where all the bugs are. So, if you are going to carve pictures of your revered ancestors with hopes of gaining supernatural knowledge, you do so where they come to hang out. And if you are particularly creative, you put the carvings near the water’s edge to get a reflection representing the duality of the natural and supernatural. Neat huh?
So how do you get there ?
The easy way is to grab one of the National Park Service day morning buoys in Reef Bay, dinghy in to the beach near the Reef Bay Plantation then take Reef bay trail inland, there will be a well marked spur to the left that takes you to the petroglyphs .
The more difficult land route is to catch the Reef Bay trail head on centerline road, there is space for a few cars , take the trail downhill to the sea, of course coming from the other side the spur will be to the right. The hard part is, well , going back up. St John in mountainous.
Visit the petroglyphs with friends, and when the conversation turns to the origin of the carvings, even though you now know better, volunteer that ancient space aliens came to St John to go snorkeling, and when they got tired, carved their pictures on the rocks. Snorkeling space aliens, that’s what they look like to me. It’s plausible or not.
Here is Annie Lennox again: