A Canyon of Mystery and Magic… Sego Canyon Rock Art

These larger-than-life pictographs at Sego Canyon in Utah are among the strangest I have ever seen. Now add in the fact that they are several thousand years old. And what’s with the pictograph on the right? Also, check out this guy’s spiky hairdo.


Zipping along Interstate 70 in Utah, you might very well decide to take a detour and visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It is a decision you will never regret. The odds are, however, that you will miss the small road that extends north of the Arches turnoff heading toward the town of Thompson Springs. In so doing so, you will miss the opportunity to visit one of the most magical and mysterious rock art sites in the Western United States: Sego Canyon.

Our van sits in Sego Canon as Peggy and I wander around looking for rock art. Most of it is located on the two rock faces below. Peggy watches as I work my way up closer to the petroglyphs.

Most of the rock art at Sego Canyon is found on the two faces of this large rock.

This is another rock face that Peggy and I checked for petroglyphs in Sego Canyon. We didn’t find any rock art but the rock itself was quite unusual. I could see why Native Americans might have considered the area sacred.

Three different historical periods are represented in the rock art here dating back over a period of 6,000 years. The most fascinating to me are the pictographs left behind during the Archaic period by nomads who roamed the area from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago. The large, anthropomorphic forms that are painted on the rock normally lack eyes, arms and legs but may come with antennae, snakes and earrings. Known as the Barrier Canyon Style, it’s hard not to think of these pictographs as alien, or at least imagine a shaman encountering these creatures on a drug induced journey into an alien world.

Dave Kingsbury, one of my followers from England, and I were discussing cults where people run around with rattlesnakes in their hands. We both agreed that such sport wasn’t for us. This horned pictograph from the Archaic period seems to have a thing for snakes. Possibly he belonged to such a cult. Or possibly he was a very powerful shaman.

Or maybe something else. I see this and I want to say, “Take me to your leader.”

And this.

I find these jellyfish-like pictographs even more mysterious than the anthropomorphs. UFO fans might describe it as a space ship taking off, but hey, maybe it is a jellyfish. Or likely something else.

This shot provides a view of how some of the pictographs fit together on the right side of snake man.

And to the left..

And now, all together.

A final shot from the Archaic period. I found these pictographs a bit ghostly.

The Fremont Culture took over from the Archaic period and lasted from  600 CE to 1200 CE. Unlike the nomadic Archaic peoples, the natives of the Fremont period grew corn, lived in permanent stone buildings, and had a complex social structure. Most of the rock art they left behind is in petroglyph form, pecked into rather than painted on the rock.

The Fremont era had its own strange figures, but these were loaded down with jewelry. I found the hand interesting. I wonder if it is holding Datura seeds. It looks a bit like a foot walking in the circle. And there is a Big Horn sheep. It is rare to find petroglyph sites in the west that don’t include them.

A close up of the two figures with another ghostly one to the right. There is also another hand and another sheep, a fat fellow. The tiny figure on the left looks more like a deer to me.

And finally, we have the more modern Ute Culture that populated the area from 1300 to 1880 CE, when the Utes were forced out of their homes and onto Indian Reservations so pioneers could grab their land. One way to distinguish petroglyphs from this period is the presence of horses, which the Spaniards brought to North America in the Sixteenth Century. In fact, horses are a major tool used in  dating rock art.

This Ute rock art featured what is thought to be a shield. I’d say that the horse is about to become horse meat.  But wait, is that a small man on the back of the horse? Maybe he is the enemy.

Ute Indians seem to hunt buffalo in this scene, which will be my last for Sego Canyon. If you ever find yourself in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to explore this fascinating  site.

Next Post: I am still out backpacking but will try to get a post up on petroglyphs Peggy and I have photographed in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks during my next break between trips.











There’s Something Fishy about the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site


What’s an octopus doing at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in south central New Mexico.


This, and my next post, will take us back to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico. I am backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this week and will respond to comments next week. Thanks, as always, for following my blog and reading my posts. 


It’s really dry at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico, like desert dry, like 10 inches of rain a year dry! So what’s with the petroglyph of an octopus? It’s at least 800 miles to the nearest body of large water, the Gulf of Mexico, and a similar distance to the Pacific Ocean. I’d think it was one of strange aliens that rock artists like to portray if it weren’t for the three-masted ship with the guy in the stern also found at the Three Rivers site.

Check out this three-masted sailing ship and what appears to be a guy peering over the railing. Even the experts scratch there heads over this petroglyph.

Obviously, someone from the Jornada Tribe had traveled to distant lands and returned to share his or her experiences as rock art. Maybe several members of the tribe had travelled on such journeys. Peggy and I also found fish, a possible seal, and maybe even a whale among the petroglyphs. The frog is a bonus.

A seal perhaps.

There’s no doubt about this fish. But note the geometric patterns. I’ll return to this theme in my next blog.

This is the whale. At least that’s what I am going with. You can make out its mouth on the left and then eye, fin and fluke. This is another example  of fitting the rock art to the rock.

Slightly off subject but still associated with water, I had to put this frog somewhere! Is this one saying, “I need a hug!” ?


NEXT POST: Geometric forms among the petroglyphs of the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site in New Mexico.











This Post Is for the Birds… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico: Part 4

A rather strange turkey you might note, with claws out, coming at you. It isn’t so strange if you’ve experienced it, as I did. I was taking close-ups of a hen’s chicks when she decided to discourage me by flying at me with claws aimed. She succeeded.


Peggy and I are on our way home from North Carolina today. We flew back to surprise our son, Tony, who was promoted to Lieutenant Commander for the Coast Guard in Charleston, South Carolina. While he teaches at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut overseeing cadets who want to fly for the Coastguard, he was visiting his In-laws in South Carolina and the Coast Guard arranged for the appointment ceremony to take place in Charleston.  

Today’s blog is for the birds, so to speak. I am featuring petroglyphs of birds we found at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico. They ranged from eagles to turkeys.

It’s no wonder that the Jornada were impressed with eagles. I am. I took this photo of a Bald Eagle in Oregon.

Here’s his look-alike petroglyph at the Three Rivers’ Site.

The mighty eagle may have ruled the skies of southern New Mexico, but it was the Thunderbird that ruled the heavens. A flap of its wings would gather clouds and send thunder bouncing off the far mountains. Lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbird existed in numerous Native American and First Nation cultures. Peggy and I have found images from New Mexico to Alaska.

This petroglyph of a Thunderbird is one of the most powerful petroglyphs I have seen.

Peggy and I found this totem pole Thunderbird on Vancouver Island, British Colombia. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another example from Three Rivers.

It wasn’t surprising that we found a roadrunner petroglyph, the superfast, long-legged bird of the Southwest that is common in the desert and eats rattlesnakes for breakfast. Did you ever watch the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoons? I was addicted to it at UC Berkeley in the mid-60s. Cartoon time was mandatory break time! My fellow dorm residents and I would gather around the lone TV in our dormitory and cheer as Road Runner once again foiled Wile E. Coyote.

A roadrunner with its snake breakfast. I am also intrigued with the upside down animal above the roadrunner. I think it might be a peccary.

This sophisticated petroglyph looks a lot like a goose or duck to me. Note how the artist has used the contour of the rock to give body to the goose.

We also found petroglyphs of wild turkeys, the bird that Benjamin Franklin preferred over the eagle as a national symbol for America. These characters provide us with endless entertainment as they roar around in our backyard, chase each other, show off, and search for food. I suspect that the Jornada regarded them as a source of food.

Possibly a turkey head.

And a stick figure turkey!

I’ll finish today with this tom turkey strutting his stuff in our back yard. We’re always amused that the hens totally ignore the guys when they put on their shows, almost appearing bored. We’ve decided that the shows are to impress the competition.

NEXT POST: The slithery serpents of Three Rivers. Last week I blogged about my encounter with a Diamondback Rattler. This time I will focus on how the Jornada perceived snakes and lizards. There is even a rattlesnake!


Forget Waldo. Where’s the Petroglyph? Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Groups of petroglyphs found at Three Rivers Site, New Mexico.

Petroglyphs are often found in the same location. How many can you find in the above photo? My answer is at the bottom of the blog.

When you find one petroglyph, you will almost always find more, frequently on the same rock. There is a general rule of thumb that Peggy and I follow: The more you look, the more you will find. Sometimes the petroglyphs were created at the same time and were tied together. More often, individual glyphs are added over time– in some cases over a period stretching out for a thousand years. Or more. Why waste a good rock?

The search is endlessly fascinating because you never know what’s going to pop up, or where. You may find hastily sketched glyphs for hours and then come on someone’s masterpiece, hidden away in a rock crevice or high up on a cliff.

Today, I am going to finish off my blogs about the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico with photos featuring groups of petroglyphs on the same rock or nearby rocks. See how many you can find and let your imagination run wild with what they mean.

Petroglyph grouping at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

There may be even more petroglyphs here than in the first photograph. Check out the rock crevice behind the star. (Can you find the star? grin) I like the trail sneaking off over the rock on the right.

Petroglyph grouping at Thrre Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

Here’s where interpretation can be fun. From left to right: Is the frog/lizard sticking its tongue out to catch a fly on top of the rock? Then there is the upside down man figure with the feet of a windmill. Next to it is the glow in the dark, Datura yoyo followed by an impressive bear foot, or is it a scared guy with his hair sticking out? And what’s with the turkey foot in the face of the Thunderbird/eagle? Did you catch the bear foot on top of the rock at the right?

Petroglyph grouping at Three rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Hard to get more jumbled than this. Check out the lizard on the left with the X-ray eyes. Bottom left shows a guy shooting a bow and arrow. I like the Bighorn Sheep climbing the steep mountain.

Cloud, lightning and sun petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

I’ve included this rock art because of the interesting petroglyph in the middle. Think of it as a weather forecast: It’s partly cloudy with a chance of thunder storms. The cloud with lightning is fairly common. But this one has the sun peeking out behind.

Milky Way petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

I’ll conclude with what I am calling a starry, starry night with Van Gogh in mind. At first, I thought river, but the more I looked at it, I decided the little specks were stars and the stream was the Milky Way. Maybe, maybe not– but it seems a fitting image to end this series with. Oh yeah, I’m pretty sure the round object is a UFO.

BTW: I found 15 petroglyphs in the first photo.

NEXT BLOG: The journey to Alaska begins. First up I will introduce you to Quivera the Van– our faithful traveling companion. Question: Could you and a companion live in 120 square feet for four years?

Sheep Cults and Ancient Mazes… The Rock Art of Three Rivers

Petroglyph maze at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Set off by distant mountains, this petroglyph appears to be a maze.

It is fun to speculate on what petroglyphs mean. It can also be frustrating. What was the artist thinking when he created the above glyph? “This will make a nice blanket design.” Or how about, “Here is the path our ancestors followed to get out of the underworld.” Or, “Here’s a fun maze.” Or, “Like wow, that Datura is some serious dope.

The petroglyph is definitely a maze; follow the lines. Beyond this, speculation becomes iffy. The book by Alex Peterson, A Field Guide to Rock Symbols of the Greater Southwest, attempts to interpret the meaning of various petroglyphs. I’ve used him extensively. But Patterson provides a cover-all-contingencies disclaimer in the beginning of his book, “There is no proof that any of these meanings are correct.

For example, join Peggy in checking out the rock art below. It’s obviously an anthropomorph (human-like), given that it standing upright and has a head. The robe has various patterns or symbols on it and a fringe at the bottom. Patterson notes that similar characters appear again and again in rock art, that “they almost certainly represent the costumed principals of the sheep cult and may have been shamans.” Sheep cults and shamans– sounds intriguing, doesn’t it.

Peggy Mekemson checks out a petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

We often find petroglyphs carved on difficult to reach places. If it is difficult for us, imagine what it must have been like for the rock artist.

At least Peggy is looking at a human-like figure. So far in my blog, I have featured identifiable subjects including people, animals, birds, reptiles, insects and one splattered frog. Today I am going to present geometric figures. Patterson has interpretations for many of these symbols, but what about the petroglyph featured below? All I can think of is, “Okay, children, today you are going to practice making squares.”

Petroglyph of squares at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Plans for a subdivision?

One of the most common geometric symbols is the circle. There are circles within circles, crosses in circles, circles made of dots surrounding other circles, etc. Naturally the sun and the moon come to mind. Also ripples on water. Once again, Patterson suggests Datura may be involved. It seems that people have similar visions when they close their eyes while under the influence. Wouldn’t know.

Solid circles surrounded by a circle with dots at Three Rivers Petroglyph site. Possibly influenced by Datura use.

Almost everywhere we looked at Three Rivers Petroglyph site we found circles. Many had outer circles made up of dots.

Petroglyph circle with cross found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

A number of the circle also feature crosses of various types. This was one of the more intriguing.

Circle petroglyph with possible sun at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

I also found this interesting. My first thought is the sun.

Large spiral circle at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

This is the most impressive circle petroglyph Peggy and I found at Three Rivers. It is actually a spiral. Start at the center and work outward. Which brings me to…

Spiral petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

… this spiral, which led me to think a bout a spiral galaxy. Could the Jornada have been in contact with little green men from outer space. Naw…….

Petroglyph found at Three Rivers petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Various interpretations. One is about a four eyed insect standing manlike who is bitten on the testicles by a sidewinder rattlesnake, a fate which would make any guy’s eyes go buggy.

Some of the geometric patterns may be pottery or textile designs. Modern shops through out the South West feature pottery, blankets and other items made by Native Americans featuring similar motifs.

Geometric petroglyph found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

This repetition of pattern suggests a design that might be used for a blanket.


Geometric petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Here’s another. This petroglyph might represent a butterfly.

Finally, we have petroglyphs that are almost map-like, featuring lakes, rivers, springs, hills and even farmlands.

Petroglyph found at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico.

Who knows? Climb down the ladder to the crops at the bottom? (grin) Could the foot print on the right be saying “Walk this way?”

Three Rivers Petroglyph site rock art.

On of my favorites at Three Rivers. Peterson says the wavy lines represent water but what’s with the square eyes.

Horse petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

This captures it all: a cute horse with extended tail and big feet, Datura driven circles, and a simple pattern of squares. There is even a snake in the grass. Maybe that accounts for the horse’s stance.

NEXT BLOG: I will finish off the series on Three Rivers Petroglyph site with several collages of rock art. Petroglyphs are rarely found alone.


Strange Gods… The Rock Art of Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

Petroglyph in Three Rivers Petroglyph site of southern New Mexico.

This is one of my favorite glyphs from the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in Southern New Mexico– but what does it mean? I’ll go out on the proverbial limb. My guess is it represents a drug induced shamanistic vision. There is some thought that the circle with dots represents Datura, a powerful hallucinogen (and also a favorite flower subject of Georgia O’Keeffe).

A lot of guessing takes place in determining the meaning of rock art. Present day Native American myths and rituals provide some clues. Others can be deduced from the petroglyph itself. An antelope filled full of arrows relates to hunting, but is it a record of an actual event or a hopeful prediction of the future?

Today I am featuring petroglyphs from the Three Rivers site that represent humans and gods. Some can seem quite strange while the one below seems… quite human.

A realistic portrayal of a human found at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

This is the most realistic portrayal of a human we found among the Three River Petroglyphs. Note the ear rings.

Petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

I also found this triangular face fascinating. Many of the petroglyphs at Three Rivers take advantage of the rocks natural features. This one uses the ridge to set off the nose and eyes, and cracks to outline the chin.

Petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in Southern New Mexico.

According to Alex Patterson in his book, Rock Art Symbols, this is either the Mother of Animals or a woman waiting for her honey. It could be she is having a baby. Check out her expression. Two different versions are below.

Petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Another possible version of Mother of Animals at Three Rivers Petroglyph site.

Petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

And a third.

Three Rivers Petroglyph.

I introduced a close up of this character in my last blog. Here he is located in his rock setting. I am thinking “boo!”

Petroglyph from Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

Talk about scary, this guy qualifies. Big eyes and big, sharp teeth

Three Rivers petroglyph.

Petroglyphs can be quite graphic in their portrayals…

Petroglyph from Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

…And abstract. Geometric patterns are often included.

You can tell your god or someone's status in society by the headdress he or she wears. The plant on the left may be corn.

You can tell your god by the headdress he or she wears. The plant may be corn.

Petroglyph from Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

I’ll conclude this blog with this spiky haired character who appears to be waving bye-bye.

NEXT BLOG: We will enter into the petroglyph animal kingdom of Three Rivers.

Mountain lion petroglyph at Three Rivers Petroglyph site in southern New Mexico.

I check out a mountain lion petroglyph.