Distinct historic themes pertinent to the City of Rocks National Reserve include American Indian habitation, the fur trade, westward migration, the development of national and regional transportation networks, agricultural development, and recreation and tourism. Stories of conflict between Indians and newcomers, stagecoach bandits, and range wars represented fleeting moments in the history of the region. However, because they personify the Wild West, these events captured the imagination of local residents and of visitors, and stories thereof have been repeated and embellished accordingly. Overland migration was similarly fleeting, yet ultimately led to the settlement of the West, to homestead legislation, and to the growth of agricultural communities — the region's most consistent and long term land use in the post-settlement era.
Visitors can view the distinctive geology and the historic signatures on rock spires written in axle grease by emigrants traveling the California Trail (1843-1869).