A passion for rock art combined with a love of justice have
been the driving forces in Lawrence Baca's life for decades. Famed
among his peers, Baca is hardly a household name, but his work in
Indian Law brought about important changes in Indian country over
more than 30 years.
Baca said his career with the U.S. Department of Justice definitely
gave him access to places others don't have. "It gave me the opportunity
to be in spiritual places and absorb the culture that was there;
and it was very beneficial to holding me together."
Baca got his first camera after he graduated from Harvard Law
School and said that soon after, "I saw the Great Gallery in Utah
in an airline magazine. There are 45 figures on the wall, human
size, maybe 2,000-3,000 years old. From then on, I just got hooked
hunting down rock art."
Of the petroglyphs, carved into the rock, and pictographs, which
were painted, Baca, Pawnee, found the latter the most inspirational.
"The artist discovered which pigments would last, which is why the
Great Gallery has lasted 3,000 years," he said.
Baca said one site in Utah had huge, red figures, maybe a dozen
or more. "One panel will lead you to a dirt road and what used to
be a ghost town. That site was shot full of holes and two were painted
over by people who had stenciled their names in foot tall letters
in green," he said.
Angry at the desecration, Baca simply left, but later decided
to go back. "The state of Utah had a specialist in rock art come
in. I got there the day after the panel had been cleaned and was
able to photograph it. There were all these reds and stunningly
In one photo, Baca is seen standing next to a panel called 13
Faces. "Some have a fairly elaborate painted chest and possibly
there were legs," he said, noting that sometime in the late 1960s,
a massive flash flood came through the canyon, carrying a tremendous
amount of debris. "As it came around the corner, it literally scrubbed
many of the figures off. The faces are still there, but much of
the lower body is gone."
While nature poses a great danger to rock art, humanity causes
the most destruction. Audibly irritated, Baca said, "Some people
believe that when you find something 1,000 years old that is not
yours, the only appropriate thing to do is put a bullet in it or
carve your name over the top."
Considering the similarities between his work at the DOJ and
his photography of the rock art, Baca said, "I learned how stupid
people can be, and their inability to appreciate what's there."
Before he retired, Baca investigated civil rights cases in the
Southwest and photographed the ancient rock art in his downtime.
Baca's wife JoAnn said, "The places speak to him in ways he doesn't
speak about. It's not just the inherent beauty. It has been very
precious to him."
Lawrence agreed. "I believe all the rock art sites are spiritually
oriented. I am always compelled to stop and put down my gear and
talk to the spirits and the paintings themselves. I ask permission
to photograph them, and when I feel it is appropriate I will set
up my camera and begin to take pictures."
Stacy King, deputy executive director of the Federal Bar Association,
said Baca's photos graced many a cover of their conference journals.
"Lawrence's photos were always a breath of fresh air. He was always
able to capture the majestic feel of those monuments."
Baca is taking his retirement seriously, but reflects on his
past. He said, "I learned that you can do a lot while you are here.
You can leave something that is lasting, and you should. After 1,000
years, the rock art is still here. We can see the artist's good
works and though we don't know his name, it doesn't matter. When
you can leave lasting impressions on people you meet, it helps you
remember, it is not me as an individual, it's what you leave behind."
Baca was the first American Indian attorney hired through the
Attorney General's Honor Law Program, and he received the Outstanding
Leadership Award as founding chairman of the Indian Law Section
of the Federal Bar Association. He was deputy director of the Office
of Tribal Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice; the first American
Indian president of the Federal Bar Association, a founding member
of the Indian Trial Lawyers Association in the Department of Justice
and the first recipient of an award named for his work, the Lawrence
R. Baca Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Federal Indian
Law, from the Federal Bar Association. The list of awards he has
won would line a wall. Baca blazed trails through Indian Law and
leaves behind him a legacy that those who may never know his name
will long benefit from.
The Three Rivers petroglyph site contains one of the most numerous
collections of petroglyphs in the nation. Of the various petroglyph
sites in New Mexico we have visited, this site has by far the most.
BLM says that there are over 21,000, and many are in excellent condition.