The Rock Art of Canyon Lands

There is no way to put into words how you feel when looking at huge murals of strange painted beings floating on canyon walls

These images predate the Anasazi and when they arrived in Grand Canyon perhaps they were perplexed by the archaic pictography scattered throughout Canyon Country? They give you a sense of awe when hiking to remote places like Horseshoe Canyon or the San Rafael Swell in Central Utah.

I have always been fascinated with rock art. When I was in my early teens I’d check out stacks of books from the library on the subject. It developed an interest that became so powerful I started traveling to all the various sites that I could access and have since visited over 800 panels of rock art in Iron County! I’ve been able to locate 23 different sites with the help of old-timers, ranchers, sheep herders and friends. I’ve stumbled across sites that may not even be known to the general public? The majority of sites found around Iron County were left by the Anasazi and Freemont and not the Western Archaics. What really generates the deepest interest for me is the Barrier Canyon styles of rock art that dominate Horseshoe Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon. I’d like to see some of the locations in Grand Canyon but they are closed off to the public.

My imagination is tempted to roam wild when visiting these places because they have an intuitive power to paint images and create scenes in my mind about the lives and times of these ancient people. They used the atlatl for hunting and created Split Twig Figurines that have been discovered in caves all over the Southwest. Very little is known about the Western Archaic peoples that lived in Utah and Arizona. When it comes to the rock art, one can only speculate and it adds to the power and awe of the Barrier Style that leaves you totally amazed. When looking at the images I do feel a power coming from their forms that suggests; perhaps they are real living entities painted on stone as I’ve heard some Ute people say. When viewing photographs of the images I feel the same lurking emotions. A Paiute friend of mine once said that it was appropriate to leave something of value for the pictographs because they are giving away spiritual power, so it is an exchange… As an artist, I feel compelled at times to incorporate them into my; paintings, sketches and doodles.

One thing that really bothers me is when folks have no respect for these sacred places. One of the biggest problems in the Southwest is the vandalism of rock art. It is disheartening to realize that someone would actually hurt a site. In my years of exploration and visiting various petroglyph/pictograph sites I’ve always been vigilant of those that destroy beauty. Anyone who would vandalize, deface or destroy anything sacred or beautiful is an enemy of mine. So when visiting these sites it is my belief that you should do so with respect and learn to hear the voices of the past. When they are disturbed it destroys the tranquility. When people destroy something so priceless and impossible to replace they are muffling those ancient voices. If you believe in the unseen and mysterious you’re best bet would be to protect these sites from those that would do harm to them. For those that do anything to hurt rock pictures will have unanticipated consequences later down the road; a family member could get sick or something? Over the years I’ve heard the many stories of how people mysteriously vanish in the wilderness without a trace. What goes around comes around and I’ve always remembered that and remain vigilant.

Leave a Reply