petroglyphs in the four corners

Rock art and petroglyphs are widespread throughout the Four Corners area. They are like whispers of history from indigenous people, revealing something about their long-ago cultures.

Petroglyphs are images, symbols or designs scratched, pecked, carved, or incised on the surface of rock.  Archeologists can guess at the meaning of the rock art, or they can ask contemporary indigenous communities about the meaning of these images.

In Utah, near Wolfe Ranch at Arches National Park, we found a stylized horse and rider surrounded by bighorn sheep and dog-like animals.  Typical of Ute rock art, these figures were carved sometime between 1650 and 1850.  Today this rock art panel is important to Native Americans in the region because it was created by their ancestors.


Ute Rock Art at Arches National Park


Ute Rock Art at Arches National Park

On Utah Highway Route 279 outside of Moab, prehistoric Native American rock art is found along the Colorado River and its tributary rivers, streams and side canyons. The rock art is depicted in either pictograph (painted) or petroglyph (pecked, incised, chiseled) images.  Anthropomorphic (human characteristic) and Zoomorphic (animal characteristic) images are found here.


Cliffs along the Colorado River near Moab


Cliffs along the Colorado River near Moab

Archeologists believe most of the rock art was created during Archaic (6,000-1000 B.C.) and Fremont (450-1300 A.D.) cultural periods.

Archaic rock art consists of pictographs and petroglyphs depicting anthropomorphs and zoomorphs, curvilinear lines, zigzags, wavy lines, concentric circles, and abstract symbols.


Petroglyphs on Rt. 279


Petroglyphs on Rt. 279

Fremont Indian rock art often depicts trapezoidal anthropomorphs with horns, bighorn sheep, dogs, hunting scenes with weapons, and abstract objects.


Petroglyphs on Rt. 279


Petroglyphs on Rt. 279

Archaic and Fremont Indian petroglyphs can sometimes be found on the same rock art panel.


Petroglyphs on Rt. 279

Native American groups ascribe religious functions to some of the rock art panels and consider them to be sacred sites. Rock art has also been interpreted as depicting concepts of migration routes, fertility, hunting magic, ceremonies, and cosmic events.


Petroglyphs on Rt. 279

At Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, the images below depict circular faces on a dark rock surface.  Modern groups identify these as Kachinas, or spirit beings, in Pueblo religion and cosmology.  Research suggests that the “Kachina culture” arrived in this region around 1300 A.D.  Similar symbols, found on modern Puebloan pottery and weavings, remind us of the continuity between prehistoric sites and the present.


Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Contemporary tribes have identified the step symbol on the rock below as a migration symbol, an important theme in Puebloan oral history.


Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

The dark coating on the boulder below is desert varnish – a concentration of mineral, clay, and organic material that accumulates over time  Prehistoric artists created rock art by exposing the lighter material underneath.

Members of the Zuni tribe believe that this rock art depicts clan ties of the artist – perhaps a mother from the Crane Clan and father from the Frog Clan.  An alternative Hopi interpretation recalls stories of a giant bird that came to villages to eat bad children.

The image below is similar to the white-faces ibis, a water bird, native to Petrified Forest, that eats frogs and other small animals. A close looks reveals what might represent water drops below the frog.  This petroglyph likely represents aquatic resources and fertility.


Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona


Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

*May, 2018*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20 photos (fewer is better) and to write less than 500-700 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself.

While I’m in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago from August 31 – October 25, and then in Portugal from October 26 – November 6, I kindly request that if you have a photography post you’d like to share, please simply link it to the appropriate post, this one or my next one as soon as it publishes. I will try my best to read your posts while I’m on my journey, but I won’t have a computer or the time or ability to add links to my posts. 

My next scheduled photography post will be on November 1, 2018.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first and third Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired! See below in the comments for any links.

Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation. 🙂