[cdt-l] In Search of the Elusive Pictoglyph (yes there is such a thing)

Jim and/or Ginny Owen spiriteagle99 at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 12 09:30:10 CDT 2007

It's been a while - so we'll make up for it with a long, long post.  Hey, 
just be thankful that Ginny wrote what follows -

This has been an exciting couple of weeks in our continuing search for 
ancient ruins and rock art.  We’ve been to several unique and interesting 
places in eastern Utah – all of which I’d highly recommend for those 
interested in petroglyphs, pictographs, Fremont ruins (not as exciting as 
Anasazi ruins – but much harder to find, which creates its own interest), or 
just interesting drives and hikes through some remote and beautiful parts of 

Fremont State Park (which we talked about before) was created when I-70 
destroyed a large Fremont settlement, but exposed several hundred rock art 
panels that are now situated along a freeway frontage road.  We spent an 
interesting afternoon looking at the many petroglyphs and pictographs along 
the road.

Rochester Canyon was a half mile walk to an incredible panel high above a 
little valley.  There was a rainbow surrounding many weird and wonderful 
images.  Not a pretty picture – but a fascinating one.  In that area we 
drove down a couple of back roads that each had their own scattered 
petroglyph panels.  A couple of very, very old pictograph panels (Barrier 
style – at least 2000 years old) were found on the Cottonwood Wash/Buckhorn 
Road  - along with a fair amount of vandalism, unfortunately.  We also found 
an untouched 3000+ year old pictograph not too far away known as Sinbad’s 
Head – that does rather look like a ghostly figure holding onto a couple of 
heads.  It’s a weird one. But the details on it and a nearby panel were 
really interesting.

One of the most interesting places we visited was Nine Mile Canyon, which 
had panels every half mile or so in some sections of the 50 mile road.  That 
was an all day trip – and a lot of fun.  We had found an online guide that 
helped us find a lot of the petroglyph panels – but there were more that we 
found just by paying attention to the rock walls above the road.  The art 
varied from ancient to fairly modern Ute pictures of horses and bison.  Many 
of the images were really good ones – though some had been vandalized.  Yes, 
it’s the same Nine Mile Canyon in the June Backpacker magazine, which we 
picked up two weeks after we had visited.  Small world.

Next we spent an interesting couple of days in a canyon in the Book Cliffs 
near Price, Utah called Range Creek 
PBS did a program called, “The Secrets of Lost Canyon” on the place – a 
ranch that was more or less shut off from the world for the past 50 years.  
The road over the ridge wasn’t built until 1947, and the people who bought 
the ranch in 1950 put in gates at each end that were kept locked – no public 
access.   When the owner reached 70 he decided to sell the land to the state 
and open it up to the public – hikers, hunters and archaeologists. The 
archaeologists have had a field day and have so far found at least 400 sites 
in the canyon, about half of which were pristine – never been touched since 
the Fremont Indians disappeared 800 years ago.  For casual visitors like us, 
it means that you need a permit to visit and you can’t drive into the 
canyon, you have to camp outside and walk in.  The property is about 13 
miles long, with several side canyons.  We hiked the first 6 1/2 miles or so 
and saw at least seven rock art sites, plus a bunch of granaries and some 
pit houses.  However, they aren’t at all obvious.  The literature doesn’t 
tell you how to find anything, and though there are faint trails in many 
places, some of those trails are cow paths, leading back up the canyon.  We 
got lucky and ran into two different rangers who told us where to look and 
what to look for, and then showed us personally some of the sites.  For a 
hiker it is a fun place to visit because it is a beautiful canyon with a 
perennial stream and lots of wildlife.  All we saw was one elk – but we saw 
the tracks of three different bears, as well as deer, elk and turkey tracks. 
  You don’t have to be an archaeologist to enjoy Range Creek. The sense of 
remoteness (assisted by a rough jeep road to access the area) is real.  And 
it was very beautiful.  I could understand why the Wilcox family held on to 
their isolation for so long.

Not far away we visited more rock art sites in Myton, Vernal and Manila.  
The Vernal-style  pictographs at Dry Fork are a must-see after all.  The 
Three Kings panel alone (actually six or seven figures) was worth the trip – 
and there were dozens of others that were really different.

It turns out that Dinosaur National Monument has closed its dinosaur quarry 
pending repairs to the building, but it still has three easy to find rock 
art sites and a lot of beautiful Utah scenery.  We camped along the Green 
River in the northern part of the Park and again a couple days later in the 
Colorado section.  We did do a short fossil hike – saw some prehistoric fish 
scales in the gray shale, a femur and spine of a dinosaur plus assorted bits 
and pieces, some clam shells in the rock and some petrified wood.  Not the 
same as the quarry – but at least we can say we saw a dinosaur to go with 
some of the tracks we’ve run across in the backcountry.  The trip to the 
Colorado section of Dinosaur NP was mostly a long scenic drive above the 
Green River near where it is joined by the Yampa.  There is a beautiful hike 
out to a point above the confluence, and a lovely campground we stayed at 
2300’ below by the river.  We saw one set of really intriguing petroglyphs 
there – they were done in a pointillist style – just the headdresses and 
necklaces and belts, nothing else - very sophisticated.  The subject was 
typical Vernal area Fremont – but the style was unique.

Flaming Gorge recreation area is nearby, so we decided to visit that as 
well, since we were so close.  We climbed from desert to high alpine meadows 
back down to desert again, all in the space of a couple of hours.  The 
reservoir was beautiful, especially contrasted against the red rock beyond.  
We saw some antelope in the Wyoming sage grasslands – it felt very familiar.

Leaving Dinosaur NM we decided on one last petroglyph/pictograph search in 
the area called Canyon Pintado (Painted Canyon).  There are a dozen easily 
accessible rock art sites along two different roads south of Rangely, CO.  
None were particularly exciting – but we had a lot of fun looking for them 
with the help of a brochure put out by the BLM.  They varied in age from 
possible Barrier-type (over 2000 years old) to Fremont (500-1300 AD), to 
19th century Ute carvings of horses and guns.

>From there we visited beautiful Colorado National Monument, near Grand 
Junction.  It’s a gorgous place with colorful sandstone cliffs and some nice 
hikes.  We spent one day putting together a series of short hikes, and the 
next on a long hike through the hills above the monument.

We’ve been seeing a lot of antelope in the desert stretches and some wild 
donkeys in the desert of the San Rafael Swell.  Colorado NM had several 
brilliantly colored collared lizards.  But most unexpected was the injured 
dog we rescued in the desert near I-70.  We  drove it to the nearest vet, in 
Moab.  Keeping our eyes open for wildlife has more than one benefit.  It was 
a cute ragamuffin ranch dog.  Its back legs were injured (possibly  kicked 
by a cow or donkey) and it was badly dehydrated.  I wish we could have kept 
it, but it needed medical attention, and we didn’t want to stay in Moab any 
longer than we had to. (It’s a zoo!)  After calling all over the place to 
find a) a vet, b) the humane society, or c) “the dog lady” with no luck - we 
contacted animal control.  A very nice woman responded who promised to get 
the dog to the shelter and find the vet (who was probably working at the 
rodeo when we called).  The Moab Humane Society doesn’t euthanize any 
adoptable animal  – so we felt a little better about leaving the dog behind, 
though still not really happy about it.

As long as we were headed south, we decided to fill in a couple of gaps in 
our archaeological tour of the southwest.  When we were in New Mexico in 
April we headed north to Mesa Verde instead of east to Bandelier and 
Petroglyph NM.  We decided that now was as good a time as any to visit them. 
  It’s a long drive, but there is still enough snow in the high country that 
we’d rather give it another week or so before we head north again.  As it 
is, it was hard to say goodbye to Utah – but the 90 degree temperatures 
helped make the decision easier.

When we decided to visit Utah instead of continuing on the GET, we thought 
we’d have time for a fairly in-depth exploration.  After all, we were only 
visiting the eastern half of the state, since we’d been to Bryce, Zion and 
Kolob a couple of years ago.  As it turns out, there is so much to see, so 
many areas to hike, so much wilderness and backcountry to explore – we 
barely touched the surface.  For every place we visited, there are three 
that we passed up – this time around.  This was an introduction to Utah – 
but just the introduction.  It’s an incredible area to visit for hikers, 
photographers and those curious about the ancient peoples.

Walk softly,
Ginny and Jim


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