Petroglyph Canyon – Zion National Park

dscf1616Summary:  Easy access off Utah State Highway 9 in Zion National Park; petroglyphs are a short hike from road; over 150 petroglyphs (and one pictograph*)

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 Freemont and the Ancestral Puebloans were in the area.  While the Freemont 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 Freemont 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 Freemont culture but describes one petroglyph of a horse and rider.  The Freemont 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.

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