Rock Art Sites in the Moab Area
Spend a few hours exploring some of the easily accessible rock art panels surrounding Moab.
The Moab area has numerous
examples of Indian rock art to enjoy. This page briefly discusses some
types, dates, the artists and their cultures and how to take care of these
irreplaceable sites. Directions are included to a number of sites which
allow you to sample some of the easily accessible ancient rock art in the
Moab area. All sites are accessible with a passenger car and a short walk!
What is Indian Rock Art?
There are two types of rock art: petroglyphs (motifs that are pecked,
ground, incised, abraded, or scratched on the rock surface) and pictographs
(paintings or drawings in one or more colors using mineral pigments and
plant dyes on the rock surface). Although many images may have originally
been executed as a combination of both techniques, most now appear only
as a petroglyph because the paint material has faded or washed away over
many years. On closer examination you might be able to see a painted design
accompanying the pecked image. Examples of both types of rock art are found
along the sites described in this guide. Each site is unique. The patterns
and motifs may be similar, but are never quite the same. Styles vary from
place to place, and from people to people.
Rock art was produced by a number of prehistoric and historic peoples
over thousands of years. Their histories in the area are very complex.
A big game hunting people, known as Paleo-Indians, are considered to be
the first human users in the area. Their game included now extinct Pleistocene
fauna such as mammoths and mastodons. A later culture called Archaic, probably
used central base camps during their seasonal round of activities based
on harvesting wild plants and animals. They did not build permanent habitation
structures, but lived in caves and in small brush shelters built in the
The Anasazi whose culture centered south of Moab in the Four Corners area,
concentrated much of their subsistence efforts on the cultivation of corn,
beans and squash. These sedentary people, also harvested a wide variety
of wild resources, such as pinion nuts, grasses, bighorn sheep and deer.
The Fremont, who were contemporary with the Anasazi people, also grew corn,
and were apparently more dependent on hunting and gathering wild resources
than were the Anasazi. Their territory was mainly north of the Colorado
River, but overlapped with the Anasazi at Moab.
Both cultures had a complex social structure, and were
highly adaptive to the extremes of the environment. The Anasazi and Fremont
are classified by scientists as "Formative" cultures.
The most recent inhabitants, the Utes have been in southeast Utah since
the 1200's. They were a very mobile hunting and gathering people who moved
in from the Great Basin. They used the bow and arrow, made baskets and
brownware pottery, and lived in brush wickiups and tipis. The Notah (Ute
people) lived freely throughout western Colorado and eastern Utah until
about 1880, when they were forced onto reservations.
Dating the Rock Art
Although it is difficult to establish an exact age of rock art, some dating
clues are easily identified. For example, whenever a horse and rider is
depicted, we know the date to be after A.D. 1540 when the Spaniards reintroduced
the horse to the New World. The presence of bows and arrows is presumed
to indicate a date after A.D. 500, the generally accepted time period for
their appearance in this region. For purposes of this guide, time periods
are broken into generalized categories relating to the people believed
to have made them.
If you have trouble locating the rock art once you are near the site,
don't be discouraged. Remember: Check your mileages. You will develop
a sense of which types of rocks and surfaces are appropriate areas to look
for petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are commonly found on the
black or brown surface (called desert varnish) of rock cliffs. The straight,
smooth, red sandstone found in the Navajo and Wingate formations is a good
area to look for pictographs. As you spot one image, look carefully around
the adjoining surface areas. Often there are numerous image at any given
site. The main panel might have one or more sub-panels nearby. Some of
the images may be very faint, having faded or eroded through the years.
You will sometimes see one layer of images constructed on top of another.
Continue on Kane Creek Drive past the cattle guard, where the road turns
from pavement to graded gravel road. After traveling 1.7 miles from the
previous site, or a total of 5.3 miles from the intersection of Kane Creek
Drive and 500 West, you will see two small pullouts suitable for single
vehicles. If you are traveling with a large group, continue up the hill
where more parking space is available and walk back to the site.
Approximately 75 feet west and down the slope from
.he road, is a large boulder with rock art on all four sides. Figures
and designs range from the Formative to the historic Ute period. The
well known "birthing
scene" is found on the left‑hand corner of the east side A the boulder
(facing the road). Notice the feet-first presentation of the baby. Look
for various animal forms, such as a centipede and a horse, bear paws and
a snake, as well as triangular anthropomorphic (human) figures and a sandal
Drive north from Moab on Highway 191 and cross the Colorado River Bridge. Proceed .5 miles to a parking area on the right side of the road. Walk back across the small bridge that crosses Courthouse Wash on the graveled foot path. At the east end of the bridge, face the 11:00 position and look up at the cliffs. Walk uphill to the base of those cliffs and look for an extremely faint rock art panel. The panel consists of a large pictograph and petroglyph panel along with associated petroglyphs on the rock slabs at its base. The panel is approximately 19 feet high by 52 feet long. The site, located in Arches National Park, was heavily vandalized in 1980, but conservation work has helped preserve and stabilize the site.
You will see large painted ghost-like illustrations typical of the Barrier
Canyon Style Archaic figures on the red-orange surface. The numerous figures
include human forms, bighorn sheep, shields, scorpion-like illustrations,
possible dogs, a long beaked bird and abstract elements. You can see evidence
of painted multi-colored figures superimposed on other pictographs. On
the desert varnish surface you will see human and animal like figures as
well as abstract forms. This site is on the National Register of Historic
Places because of its representation of a Barrier Canyon Style rock art
Golf Course Rock Art
Take Highway 191 south to the golf course turn off (approximately 4 miles
from the comer of Main and Center in downtown Moab). Turn left and proceed
to Spanish Trail Road approximately 1 mile just past the fire station located
on the left-hand side of the road, turn right onto Westwater Drive. Proceed.5
miles to a small pullout on the left-hand side of the road (please do not
block or go up the private driveway).
The panel runs from ground level up to approximately
30 feet on the high rock wall. Designs cover an area about 90 feet wide.
The panel is from the Formative Period and you will be able to see human
figures, such as the "Moab Man", elk, canines, and big and
small bighorn sheep. Look to the far right of the panel and find what
is popularly referred to as the reindeer and sled.
At the comer of Main and Kane Creek Drive (McDonald's
is on the southwest corner) turn west and proceed .8 miles to the intersection
of Kane Creek Drive and 500 West. Stay left and continue along Kane Creek
Drive approximately 2.3 miles to the mouth of "Moon Flower Canyon.
Along the rock cliff just beyond the canyon, you will see a rock art
panel dating from he Archaic to Formative Periods. The site is behind
the tall protective fence. There is a Barrier Canyon Style figure (a
large triangular shape with headdress), desert, bighorn sheep and a number
of abstract elements. The panel is from ground level to a height of
about twelve feet and extending approximately 100 feet. You will see
a blue residue left from an illegal latex mold on one of the bighorn
sheep motifs. This entire panel is one of the most vandalized rock art
sites in the Moab area.
Continue another 1.2 miles to another rock art panel. A huge rock surface
covered with desert varnish faces the river from the cliff side of the
road. Here, you can see bighorn sheep, snakes, human forms, and a trail,
possibly indicating a route from the river up Kane Springs Canyon. Again,
you will notice some vandalism. (If you miss this site, it may be seen
more easily on the return trip.)
Potash Road Rock Art Sites
From Highway 191 take Utah Scenic Byway 279 (Potash Road) south for
5 miles where you will find an "Indian Writing" interpretive road sign and pull out
adjacent to the river. Caution: Watch for highway traffic. Looking 25 to
30 feet up the rock wall on the cliff side of the road you will see petroglyphs
from the Formative Period. Look for the line of "paper doll cutouts" and
horned anthropomorphs holding shields and abstract images, as well as a
wide variety of other animal and abstract images. The panel extends along
the road 125 feet.
The round holes carved into the sandstone underneath
the left side of the petroglyph panel once held the roof poles of a structure
which was excavated by archaeologists prior to road construction. The
structure and the rock art panel were easily accessible before the talus
slope was cleared away to make room for the road. Continue south 200
yards to the next "Indian Writing" sign. You will find the
large bear with a hunter at the bear's nose and another over its back.
At an interpretive pullout approximately 0.75 miles further along the
Utah Scenic Byway 279, you can see Indian rock art and dinosaur tracks.
On the north side of the road two spotting tubes indicate the location
of three‑toed allosaurus tracks in the Navajo/Kayenta sandstone interface.
Binoculars are needed to view the petroglyphs located to the left of
the tracks at the base of the cliff.
Approximately 7.5 miles farther along Highway 279 is Jug Handle Arch (near
the mouth of Long Canyon). Proceed to jug Handle parking area via a dirt
road that travels east from the highway. The rock art is located above
the parking area to the north.
Take Hwy 191 north to Interstate 70. Go east to the Thompson Spring exit. Travel north through the small town of Thompson Springs to the area preserving the rock art panel with split rail fences. Rock Art is meant to be looked at, take pictures, and please do not add any scratches or marks to any stone surface, fence, nor building walls in the great outdoors. Bring water and a lunch along! Picnic tables and pit toilet are available at the site.
This outdoor gallery has pictographs and petroglyphs and covers Native American people over 8,000 years. The haunting figures resemble those in Canyonlands National Park’s Horse Canyon Great Gallery and are of the time period of the Archaic Period 6,000 BC to 100 BC.
Besides that painted Barrier Canyon Style, the Fremont etched triangular bodies and square heads highly decorated. The Fremont was named after the Fremont River in Utah and lived at the same time as the Anasazi beginning around 600 AD through about 1250 AD.
Then the Ute, 1300 AD until 1880 AD, inhabited the Sego Canyon. This un-united group traveled in nomadic bands. The art is dated by the arrival of the horse with the Spanish in the sixteenth century and reference to circles believed to be shields. By 1880 the Ute were forced onto reservations.
Located in Arches National Park, the Wolfe Ranch panel is a fine example
of historic Ute rock art. Follow the signs to Wolfe Ranch and Delicate
Arch, 14 miles from the park entrance. At the Wolfe Ranch parking lot,
walk east 600 ft. along the established trail past the cabin and across
the wash. The Ute hunting panel site is on a trail that branches left off
the Delicate Arch trail just past the bridged wash.
Rock Art Brochures
Print out the following guide and bring it along on your driving tour.
Rock art sites on federal lands are nationally protected
areas. The art is extremely fragile, once damaged the site can never be
repaired to its original condition. Please avoid even touching the rock
surface. Surprising as it may seem, the oils in a single handprint can
chemically affect the rock surface. Take care so that others may marvel
at these fragile and beautiful remains of the past. You will see evidence
of vandalism such as bullet impacts, names and dates incised on the rock
surface, remains of latex molds and chalk marks. Do not attempt to remove
any form of vandalism, including signatures, dates and names. Site repair
requires technical expertise and can be made more difficult by the good
intentions of those without highly developed skills.
Moab Information Center
Once you arrive in Moab, your first stop should be the Moab Information
Center. Conveniently located at the corner of Main and Center Street in
Moab, the MIC offers information on recreational opportunities and visitor
services throughout southeastern Utah. Allow some time for the interpretive
displays and large gift shop featuring guide books, maps, videos, DVD's,
postcards, and much more.
GPS - Moab Info Ctr
38° 34' 22.4" N
109° 33' 0.1" W