I’ve enjoyed visiting various petroglyph sites in Utah and have many more to visit. I created this site to share those visits and to create some awareness of what is out there in Utah.
Some petroglyph locations are not well publicized mostly to protect them from those that would harm them in various ways. Sadly, not everyone is about their preservation for others of multiple generations to enjoy. However, that also makes it difficult for others who do not know about them to enjoy them properly.
I hope to bring attention to those locations that the public can enjoy and to share pictures and information about some that are not so public. Don’t expect detailed directions to the locations that are more protected but e-mail me with any questions. If possible at some point I would like to provide tours to some locations to help others enjoy them while at the same time maintaining their protection.
Summary: The easiest place to see the most petroglyphs in Utah (Main Park and Museum Site)
Directions: Located off of I-70 on Clear Creek Canyon Road (15 minutes east from I-15) Maps
This is probably the best site in Utah to see petroglyphs and pictographs for those that don’t want a strenuous hike involved. Yes, there are several petroglyphs to see that you do need to hike to but many are accessible via a short walk near the museum. The name of the park tells you the name of the primary creators of the petroglyphs found here, the Fremont culture. This site benefits from a Museum with displays including pottery, baskets, and arrowheads – many artifacts that were uncovered during the excavation of a Fremont village on the nearby Five Finger Ridge. There are rock art tours and demonstrations as well.
This map shows petroglyph and pictograph locations along Clear Creek Canyon Road. Note that 4 of the locations are near the museum and require short, easy hikes to get to. Another site I highly recommend is #9 – Cave of 100 Hands pictographs. There is an easy hike involved (about .6 miles) but it is worth it. The trail is relatively flat with packed dirt. You are rewarded by a cave (recess) with handprints of various colors placed there by the Fremont people.
There are many easy to see petroglyph/pictograph sites in Utah. What sets this one apart is the number of petroglyphs/pictographs that can be seen relatively easily. Another bonus, in my opinion, is having a museum to help you understand who the people were that created the rock art.
Summary: A park short on “park” but two rocks are present with petroglyphs. City of St. George information.
Directions: Located in the Bloomington residential area of St. George. Map link available at City of St. George information link.
There are basically two rocks at this site fenced off with natural foliage on a corner in the middle of a residential area. You can throw one of your kids from the fence to the rocks on which the petroglyphs can be found (I don’t recommend kid throwing, by the way). Don’t expect any amenities at this “park”. I did find some of the petroglyphs interesting, however, so I thought this site was worth at least a short mention. Namely, the second picture in the gallery (also the one at the beginning of this post). There is a triangle with circles at each corner. That is one I do not believe I have seen at another location yet.
Summary: Not many Petroglyphs but includes a partially reconstructed Fort Pearce guard post. Bureau of Land Management Description.
Directions: 12 miles from St. George, Utah off of Warner Valley Road (BLM Map).
The petroglyphs are few at this site but that didn’t stop us from checking them out. The partially reconstructed Fort Pearce guard post was build during the Black Hawk War. I will classify it as a War considering the Utes and Navajos were intent on driving the Mormons out and carried out raids between 1865-1870 and Mormons retaliated, sometimes killing the innocent. Lives were lost on both sides of the conflict.
The petroglyphs are a short walk from the parking area. You will first come upon one rock with some petroglyphs but if you continue further along somewhat of a trail you will find more on a rock overhang that has also been marked up by Mormons in the area in the late 1800s but after the Black Hawk War. It was hard to see some of petroglyphs due to some insect activity and mud. It also appears there may have been some past attempts to imitate some of the petroglyphs.
There is a spring in the area and when we were there a family was swimming in the water that was in the Fort Pearce Wash. A portion of the dirt road to the site was covered in sand and may be an issue with some cars. We have a 4-wheel drive so it was not an issue for us and we noticed a Honda Accord had driven to the site while we were there.
Directions: Located in Zion National Park off of Utah State Highway 9 East of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. This is described as a “protected” site in that directions to it are not publicized by Zion National Park. Some websites state you should ask at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for directions but that you will not succeed in getting them.
This is one of multiple petroglyph sites found in Zion National Park. Petroglyphs and Pictographs found in Zion National Park are, from what we have experienced so far, closely guarded secrets. Even though the park has this excellent write-up (PDF) on the site, you will note it does not tell you where it is to be found. There are valid concerns about the fact that visitors may unintentionally impact the petroglyphs found there as well as at other locations. With almost 3 million people visiting the park in a year, you can understand what kind of impact there would be if everyone was trying to visit the petroglyph sites.
To get to the site a short scramble is required from the side of SR-9 from either side. There is some parking near a wooden fence. If you go down from where you parked, you will need to go under SR-9 through a bricked tunnel. The petroglyph site has signage and a wooden fence to keep visitors from getting too close to the petroglyphs.
*The Zion National Park brochure on the site mentions the presence of a pictograph – a small red triangle. We have yet to locate this pictograph and have not found a picture of it on the internet. I do enjoy visiting these sites multiple times and hope to locate the mentioned pictograph at some point.
There are several examples of zoomorphs (animal-like figures), especially bighorn sheep. There are also many anthropomorphs (human-like figures) in various poses. Also, as found at numerous petroglyphs sites around the world, are many concentric circles/spirals. Quoting from Zion National Park information:
In some Southwest locations such as Chaco Canyon and Faijada Butte, New Mexico, similar circular designs/spirals interact with sunlight or shadow effects in particular ways during a solstice or equinox. Could the images at Petroglyph Canyon also mark such events?
It would be very interesting to know if such were the purposes of the circular designs/spirals at this location as well as at most locations I have visited so far in my limited experience. I do not think it necessarily has such a purpose at all sites, but it is really hard to know unless one can observe the actual effects during a solstice or equinox or other event.
Some additional information from Zion National Park I would like to also point out has relevance to several other petroglyph and pictograph sites in the region:
Rock art in the vicinity of Zion National Park was once assumed to date to Anasazi times about 1000 years ago. However, people have lived in the area for as many as 7000 years. The Archaic people preceded the Ancestral Puebloan peoples formerly known as the Virgin Anasazi. The ancestors of the modern Southern Paiute occupied this area as well. Non-disruptive dating techniques are now being developed that may answer such questions as the age of rock art.
Southern Utah has had several different Native American groups come through over time. Before the Paiute and Navajo moved in, The Fremont and the Ancestral Puebloans were in the area. While the Fremont culture was found mostly in central and northern Utah, there is some evidence they came as far south as the present day St. George area. This is mostly evidenced by pottery remains – the Fremont culture having a distinct form of pottery. Chances are, some petroglyph and pictograph sites probably have figures put there by more than one group of Native Americans over time.
One website I ran into describes petroglyphs as being made by those of the Fremont culture but describes one petroglyph of a horse and rider. The Fremont culture had pretty much dissolved into other groups or moved on before Spanish horses made it to Utah, so most likely the petroglyph of the horse and rider was put there by a more modern tribe but could very well have been added amongst those previously inscribed by an earlier people.
Also present at Petroglyph Canyon are a series of wide grooves along a rock shelf between panels that suggest tools may have been sharpened there, most likely to create the petroglyphs.
I was surprised after we moved to Utah to find the Anasazi term used so much to label a group of Native Americans that “inhabited southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico and northern Arizona from about A.D. 200 to A.D. 1300″ (Utah History to Go). On our visit to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado shortly before moving to Utah we were told that the term had fallen out of favor.
The term Anasazi is described by many, including Utah History to Go, as meaning “Ancient Ones”. The term was originally used by the Navajo to describe the ancestors of the Hopi and other Puebloan tribes (actual descendants of the “Anasazi”) from the Navajo words Ana’í meaning alien, enemy foreigner, and non-Navajo and Sází translates to something or someone that is scattered. The Hopi translate it as “Enemy Ancestors” and don’t find the term complementary. Hisatsinom (ee-SAH-tse-nom) is the term preferred by the Hopi in referring to their ancestors which means “Ancient People”. Other descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans who speak one of the Tewa (or Tano) languages use the term Se’da which means “Ancient Ones”.
If you are a descendant of the Ancestral Puebloans, it appears that Anasazi is a derogatory term meaning “Enemy Ancestors” but if you are not it means “Ancient non-Navajo” or “Ancient Ones”. From the Navajo word it seems it can go either way and not be incorrect but many internet sources go with one or the other. I ran into an old 1999 Salt Lake Tribune article written by Christopher Smith that was reprinted in the Seattle Times (this article brought up another subject I found interesting and will touch on another time). In that article he quotes Irv Francisco, a ranger at Navajo National Monument near Kayenta Arizona, “We’ve been told we should maybe use the word `Hisatsinom,’ instead of Anasazi, and that’s a Hopi word that I, as a Navajo, don’t use. It’s my language, not theirs, and Anasazi is our own form we use to refer to these people.”
Irv Francisco has a good point. We call several countries, people or cultures using English words or terminology because that is the language we speak. What is wrong with the Navajo using a Navajo word to describe the Ancestral Puebloans (as long as its not meant in a derogatory way)? However, why should others use that same Navajo term when they are not Navajo? The Hopi and other descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans appropriately call their ancestors by terms in their language.
If you can’t tell, my preference is to use terminology that is in my language and call the Anasazi/Hisatsinom/Se’da the Ancestral Puebloans. I think the expanding usage of this term has shown broad acceptance and does not seem at odds with the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans. I think it would be nice to see more mention in history texts in Utah of this terminology and maybe even a brief excerpt on what these people were called by their descendants and even the Navajo.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Apparently, the term Navajo was from the Spanish Apachu de Nabahu which in turn was derived from the Tewa word navahū meaning “large arroyo with cultivated fields” – so Apaches of the large arroyo with cultivated fields (the Apache and Navajo are related and are jointly referred to by some as the Apachean people and are said to be of the Athabascan people that originated in Northwestern Canada and Alaska). The term Apache was first recorded being used by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate in 1598. Some sources claim the term Apachu came from the Zuni (descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans) and means “enemy”. I found little proof of this but the possibility is interesting.
So, the Navajo apparently tolerate being called a term from the language of descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans themselves and don’t seem to insist we refer to them as Diné, the term the Navajo refer to themselves as. On top of that, my reading of various sources state that the Navajo had a good trading relationship with the Puebloans and learned crop farming techniques from them. It would seem unlikely that the Navajo would use the term Anasazi as derogatory considered their relationship with the Puebloans.
Summary: Easy Access to Trailheads; .5-1.2 Mile Moderate Hike; Numerous Petroglyphs
Directions to the Anasazi Valley Trailhead: From I-15 Exit 6 turn north on Bluff Street. Turn left on Sunset Blvd. Continue on Sunset Blvd as it turns into Santa Clara Drive. Continue 3.2 miles past the Jacob Hamblin Home as Santa Clara Drive turns into Highway 91. Turn left onto a gravel road and travel 0.3 miles to the Anasazi Valley Trailhead. (Directions from BLM website)
Both the Tempi’po’op Trail and Tava’atsi Trail are rated as moderate due to the amount of climb involved and some rugged portions of trail. The Tava’atsi Trail is steeper as it climbs faster and is the shorter trail. The Tempi’po’op trail offers a less steep climb and is mostly dirt with some rocks along the trail. The petroglyphs are numerous and scattered among some rocks west of the trail at the top of Land Hill (what the formation is called) so some rock scrambling will be involved if you want to get to see as many of the petroglyphs as you can.
If you go, I recommend at least a bottle of water, especially during the summer. Sturdy shoes are recommended as well but you don’t need hiking shoes. We’ve taken our younger children and have seen senior hikers there as well but please understand this hike is rated moderate for a reason as noted above. During the summer morning or evening is the best times to make the hike.
The destination is worth the hike with several interesting petroglyphs present at the site.