Before you lies one of the major concentrations of ancient rock carvings in the Hawaiian Islands. Boundaries were not crossed casually in old Hawaii, and the thousands of surface carvings here, just north of the border between the ancient kingdoms of Kohala and Kona, suggest that many may have a religious or commemorative meaning to the event of crossing that border.
Groups waiting for permission to cross, or armies poised to defend the border or attack it, made simple encampments using cave shelters and rock wall windbreaks. Some of the "C" shaped windbreaks may still be seen in an unrepaired state.
Most petroglyphs were made with a sharp stone held as a chisel and struck with a hammer stone; the lines being further incised with a sharp rock fragment. Others were made by rubbing a blunt stone against the lava surface, or by bruising the surface by pounding, breaking the natural glaze which forms on cooling lava to reveal the granular interior. Erosion of the edges has blurred the most ancient carvings, and some damage has been caused by persons making rubbings (a practice not permitted without special permission from Waikoloa).
We can only speculate about the meanings of the petroglyphs. Some of the information given to early western observers is contradictory, perhaps deliberately misleading to preserve the secrecy of meanings not intended to be shared. But these carvings were not idle "doodling." In the Polynesian world, every expression had significance and purpose. The pictoral images may have commemorated events, or served as representations of guardian spirits carved as prayer objects, or they may have been heraldic devices of clans. Concentrations of dots, lines, and circles may have recorded the number of persons in a group, or days of travel, or prayers made, or the number of trips made past this place, as an indelible communication to posterity. Here, travelers might come upon the signature of an ancestor, and add their marks.
Hawaiians learned to read and write with a speed that astonished their missionary teachers, some memorizing the entire testament in a few months. The presence of Hawaiian names in Roman letters, of dates, and of images of sailing ships and horses, poignantly marks a time of change. The most recent carving is more than a century old.
Because the trail was primarily used by commoners, these carvings may not have profound relevance to the main events of ancient Hawaii. But all petroglyphs are treasured as enigmatic but tangible evidence of the old culture, irreplaceable and priceless.