One of our favorite things to do in Southern Utah is to range around in the land of the Ancient Ones looking for evidence of how they lived their lives. It’s like a gigantic Treasure Hunt! Sometimes these places are easy to find and developed for the roadside tourist, like the petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock. Sometimes it’s a place we’ve been told of and it might take a little exploration to find. But the most fun is when we’re walking up some deserted canyon and just get that ‘feeling’; and looking up lo and behold, there’s a ruin tucked into a ledge or a large petroglyph glowing from the canyon wall.
Newspaper Rock was my first experience with petroglyphs. A roadside attraction on Utah State Route 211 about 28 miles southwest of Monticello, Utah, it is an astonishing first look at this ancient Art. The country is gorgeous and well worth the kinda rough (although paved) drive off the main route from Monticello.
So what’s the difference between a petroglyph and a pictograph? The words are very similar and I have to remind myself anew every time I go down there. A petroglyph is an image carved, incised or scratched into stone. A pictograph is a painting on stone, using natural pigments. Pictographs are typically found only in caves or other areas where they can be protected from the elements of sunshine, wind-blown sand and precipitation. If you look closely at the image above you can see how the figures are carved into the rock’s dark ‘varnish’.
Now look at this image
Doesn’t it look like they dipped their hands in paint? Amazing it would last this long. Once you’ve stumbled across them (this panel we found on recommendation), it’s fun to spend some time imagining what they’re about. Just kids painting on their walls? A story of family life? Or maybe an ongoing ancient herd count of the animals they hunted. Hmmmm….
Some of the panels make one think of aliens, or ancient gods from their spiritual life:
Also in the San Rafael Swell, these petroglyphs were showing major signs of erosion, with huge slabs peeling off the wall. We felt fortunate to have seen them before they were gone altogether.
Most spectacular of all, as I said earlier, is to be walking up a desolate canyon with no signs of human life at all, and to look up across the canyon floor and see this on the other side…
This was a side canyon off the Dirty Devil river. We were running it as a self support twelve day trip in inflatable kayaks. Truly we were in the middle of nowhere and nobody, and certainly not expecting these petroglyphs. I wish I could have had a person standing under them to give scale, but access was an issue. Those figures were probably close to 15 feet high. What a presence.
This final image is a place we’d heard of in the newly designated (and now already threatened with dissolution) Bear’s Ears National Monument in southern Utah. We’d been told it was here. We looked and looked and looked for the location. When we finally saw it it was hard to believe our eyes. The petroglyph was simple enough (yet, oh so elegant), and the ruin remnant was very cool, but it was the LOCATION…OMG. No wonder we didn’t see it at first! You’ll have to wait for the next post to see it in its environmental context….. ;<)
Check out the rest of the Gallery here. There’s another clue to this petroglyph/ruin hidden in there!