A Strange Walk into an Alternate Reality… Petroglyphs in Zion National Park

Photo of geologic structure above petroglyphs in Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy and I found this interesting rock formation looming above the petroglyphs that we located in the eastern section of Zion National Park. It was only the beginning of unusual rock structures that defined the area.

I quickly learned when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa that my reality was substantially different from that of the tribal students I was teaching. It was a lesson that has served me all of my life. The human mind is incredibly flexible and our reality, to a large extent, depends upon what we are taught. Given my 1965-67 experience in Liberia, I can’t even start to imagine what people believed 7,000 years ago.  

That’s when humans first started wandering the area now known as Zion National Park. They started with Archaic peoples, moved on to the Anasazi and Fremont cultural groups, and, in turn, were followed by the ancestors of modern day Native American Paiutes. Any or all of these groups may have left petroglyphs in the slot canyon Peggy and I explored in the eastern section of the Park. And all of them reflect thinking that we can only guess at. 

Peggy and I are fascinated by petroglyphs, both from the connection it gives us to people from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and from the unique look of rock art. We have visited sites throughout the Southwest. There is a certain commonality to the rock art depending on the culture represented. We have also found a similarity to sites selected by the ancients to leave their messages. Not surprisingly, they tend to be near water, which is where the people lived. But there was also an inclination to select locations that stood out from the surroundings. Possibly it gave a sense of sacredness to the area. 

The site we visited was an excellent example of this, as our photos show. The strangeness, however, started with the directions to find the site. As I remember them: “Go down into the canyon and find a sand wash. Follow the wash up the canyon until it comes to the tunnel under the road. Go through the tunnel and follow the wash until you come to a trail to your left.” There was as much room for interpretation in following the directions as there was for interpreting what the petroglyphs meant! 

Our photos start with the tunnel.

Photo of tunnel under road in Zion national Park that leads to petroglyphs taken by Peggy Mekemson.
It was appropriately hidden by trees and bushes.The sandy wash led right to it, however. The light we could see on the right suggested that the tunnel was a few feet long. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of tunnel to petroglyphs in East Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
Reality was different. It was much longer than it appeared to be. Fortunately, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Disappearing into the light at the end of the tunnel that led to petroglyphs in Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
Peggy walked toward the light and disappeared. She boldly went forth where numerous others had obviously travelled, judging from the foot prints in the sand. But did they ever return? Maybe a little Sci-Fi/Horror movie music is called for here.
Photo of sand was leading to petroglyphs in the eastern section of Zion national Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
She was waiting for me in the sandy wash that led onward, supposedly toward a trail that would lead off to the left and petroglyphs. We quickly learned that there were several trails leading off to the left where people had gone in futile searches! Fortunately, Peggy and I had an advantage…
Photo of rocks near petroglyphs in east Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
We were looking for an area that suggested the presence of petroglyphs. This rock structure seemed a likely candidate. We started looking for a trail to the left, and found even more interesting rocks.
Photo of cliff near petroglyphs in Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught this photo and the following one.
Photo of petroglyph site in Zion National Park by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Strange rocks found near petroglyphs in the eastern section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
How’s this for unusual? If I were a shaman, I’d think this would be a great location for petroglyphs.
Photograph of rock face near petroglyphs in the eastern section of Zion national Park by Peggy Mekemson.
This fellow was not a petroglyph but part of the rock face, so to speak. I’ve learned a new word, BTW: pareidolia, the tendency to read into patterns and interpret visual stimuli, even when there is no intentional meaning present. A lot of that happens in my blogs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo along the Petroglyph Trail in the eastern section of Zion National Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
There was something surreal about the beauty of the area. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of colorful rocks found along Petroglyph Trail in the easter section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
I looked up and caught this colorful view.
Photo of Zion National Park petroglyph site taken by Curt Mekemson.
And then we reached the site. It was just beyond the green shrubs if my memory serves me correctly. It’s hard to imagine a more stunning location. We were prepared to enter the alternate reality suggested by petroglyphs.
The petroglyphs were waiting. This is obviously a human like figure, probably a woman, but what’s with the strange diagram underneath? Does it represent power lines reaching out to the universe from the individual. I stared at it for a while and wondered if it didn’t represent a reflection in water. Or a moon shadow. Remember the song by Cat Stevens? (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of petroglyph in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
Another reflection shot? A selfie? Or possibly a mating couple. Such images are not uncommon in petroglyphs.
Photograph of origin petroglyph in the eastern section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
This is frequently thought of as being an origin petroglyph, representing the entry into this world from another world.
Photo of petroglyph panel in East Zion National Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
This panel clearly represents petroglyphs created in different times with the figures in the upper right being of more recent origin. Are they hiking with packs? Or are they paddling a boat? The wavy line may represent a lake and a stream. Or a snake? The lower guy on the right seems to be asking the question while the guy on the left seems to be running like crazy to escape. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of animal with antlers in Zion National Park by Curt Mekemson.
I labeled this guy as a moose. Why not— even though there is no record of moose in the Park area except in 2013 when one showed up. 🙂 Tourists were told to keep their distance.

Photo of woman petroglyph by Peggy Mekemson.
We’ve found women portrayed like this throughout the Southwest. The circular figure may be the sun. I wondered if the wiggly lines represented counting, or a snake, or a river. Or…
Person on a warpath petroglyph in the eastern section of Zion National Park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
My imagination placed this woman on the warpath! 🙂 (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

There were many other petroglyphs. At the end of the panels, Peggy and I found steps carved into the canyon wall leading up to a ledge.

Steps carved into cliff along petroglyph trail in the eastern section of Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
I thought it might be interesting to climb up them and explore the ledge. Peggy felt it best that her 79 year old husband be grounded. Grin.

Wandering up the trail in search of more petroglyphs, we found a dead big horn sheep that may have slipped while climbing the walls. Or been taken out by a cougar.

It did not look very happy. Peggy wondered why I wanted to photograph it and decided it was a sign that we should turn around. Admittedly, it did look a bit Satanic…

Shortly afterward we came to what was obviously the end of the trail unless we wanted to scramble over rocks. We turned around leaving the sheep, the petroglyphs, the beautiful canyon and the tunnel behind. It had been quite an adventure. In my next post we will explore more of the unique beauty of East Zion National Park.

24 thoughts on “A Strange Walk into an Alternate Reality… Petroglyphs in Zion National Park

  1. I’ll admit that I did not contemplate our reality being determined by our culture and education although I have often seen it to a more limited state right here in this country. Thanks.

    • Not having access to other information limits ones view of the world for sure, Ray. And it can give great power to someone who can control the flow of information. Dictators have used that forever. As well as fundamentalists. Then there is the situation where people have a certain mindset that enables them to ignore any outside information, a possibility enhanced by our modern media options. Thanks, as always for your input. –Curt

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and your illustration. The image of Peggy walking into the light at the end of the tunnel reminded me of the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when figures are lit up against the opening of the spaceship. I had not heard of the word “pareidolia” but isn’t it a good word? I do that all the time, and an example is the photo it was right below, who immediately made me think of a famous local petroglyph: She Who Watches, who is along the Columbia River. The photography here is splendid and the green leaves against the red rocks so compelling. It’s very hard not to try to guess the meaning of the messages on the walls, but also good to remember that the world was certainly different for humans 7,000 years ago.

    • Thanks, Crystal. Much appreciated. I had also thought of Close Encounters. Disappearing into the light is always a great symbol for entering into a new world. When my dad came to me in a dream right after he died and said he was okay, he too, disappeared into the light.
      I love the way green trees and leaves set off the red rocks. Peggy and I incorporate them whenever the opportunity its comes up. 🙂
      As Dave, noted we don’t have to go back 7,000 years to find folks whose concept of reality is hard to understand!
      I have yet to see the Columbia River petroglyphs. Maybe you will take us to see them next time we are out west. 🙂 –Curt

      • That dream must have meant a lot to you. I appreciated it when my Mom visited my dreams several times after she died. Yes! I’d love to explore Columbia petroglyphs with you both whenever you make it back to this side of the continent.

      • Sounds great, Crystal. We are in Amsterdam now and leave on our Rhine River trip tomorrow. I really like this city. Have each time I have visited it going back 50 years. Grin. –Curt

  3. I love your post and pics as always Curt and it’s so good to see you. I have to get there someday soon. I too love petroglyphs and the red mountains.

    “a dead big horn sheep that may have slipped while climbing the walls. Or been taken out by a cougar.”

    Oh no this poor guy looks minutes dead and a sign to turn around for sure. Knowing you you kept going. 😂😂😂
    Hugs and love

    • Hey Cindy. I’m sure you would love the experience. There is a spirituality to the area that I am sure you would appreciate.
      Yep, I just kept going. 🙂 Not far, however. The canyon rockfall was a short distance up the trail.
      Actually, the big horned sheep had been dead a while. Had it been a fresh kill with the chance that a hungry cougar was still around, I might have made a different decision. 🙂 Thanks. –Curt

      • Oh I’m sure I would Curt. How lovely. That sheep looked every bit alive,, Yikes. I would imagine so. Happy you are living your best life as always! 💖💖💖🌹

  4. I learned ‘pareidolia’ a few years ago, and have put it to good use. I saw any number of ‘things’ in your various rock photos, but the ones I liked best were the most abstract: particularly the two Peggy took that are about in the middle of the post. Of course the petroglyphs are interesting and piqued my curiosity, but I have to confess it: the last photo is my favorite. Living as we are with the high 90s and more just now, I can’t help wondering what the temperature was when you were roaming. I kept looking at the sand and rocks and thinking, “Ummmm… I don’t know about that!”

    • Mainly, the temperatures were moderate when we were visiting the parks, Linda. Most of the time we were at a fairly high elevation. Also, the worst of the heat was farther south (like Texas, grin). It was only when we started our marathon across the midwest and east that the heat caught up with us.

      The rocks were fantastic, and while the petroglyphs weren’t as interesting as some we have seen, we always find them fascinating. –Curt

  5. Yes, how nice to contemplate what those rock photos are telling us. An early type of graffiti as suggested by a previous writer! And all that has happened in the years since?
    I wonder if the rocks contain iron ore, seeing how red they are.

    • I suspect the early art served many purposes, Gerard, ranging from graffiti, to shamanistic ritual, to actual art, to directions and stories. One of these days, I’ll make it to Australia to check out the rock art. Photos I’ve seen suggest it is fascinating.

      Some of the rock I’m sure, but what often happens according to geologists is that the iron oxide bleeds down from upper rocks, painting the white sandstone red.

  6. I don’t think we need to wait 7000 years to find folks whose concept of current reality is hard to understand. I guess people love to tell themselves stories, and then convince themselves the stories are true.

    Just the same, you’ve found a pretty spot for the local version of “Kilroy was here.” 😉

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