Rock Art Sites in the Moab Area

Spend a few hours exploring some of the easily accessible rock art panels surrounding Moab.

Introduction

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.

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!

The 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 open.

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.

Protection

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.

Biological Soil Crust

Help to keep all of our trails open. Protect this fragile, but crucial, soil by remaining on designated roads, routes and trails at all times.

Biological soil crust, also known as cryptobiotic soil, is the foundation of desert plant life. This black, knobby crust is made up of many different living organisms and plays a vital role in maintaining the desert ecosystem. However, this sensitive soil is extremely fragile and can take decades to grow. Even a footstep can damage the crust for decades, having lasting impacts on the desert environment. Please stay on the trials. Help to protect this fragile life by remaining on designated roads, routes, and trails at all times. Where hiking trails are not established, hike in sandy washes or on bare rock.

Sites

  • Birthing Scene
  • Courthouse Wash Rock Art
  • Golf Course Rock Art
  • Kane Creek Blvd. Rock Art Site
  • Potash Road Rock Art Sites
  • Sego Canyon
  • Wolfe Ranch Rock Art

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.

Moab Outdoor Adventure Guide

The Moab Outdoor Adventure Guide is a new comprehensive guide to adventures and activities that are available on the public lands surrounding Moab. If you are interested in hiking, off-road driving, river activities, scenic byways, dark sky observing, mountain biking, e-biking, rock art tours, camping, dinosaur trails, or traveling with pets, this guide to set you on the right path. It will be going to press in a few months however the FREE eBook version is available right now!

Click here to view the Moab Outdoor Adventure Guide online.

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