Where the Colorado and Green Rivers Meet… Canyonlands National Park

A gargoyle-type rock perches above the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.

I have a weakness for gargoyles. Their grotesque features appeal to my sense of humor. Or is that warped sense of humor? Whether I am touring a medieval cathedral or visiting Gotham City, they leap out and capture my imagination. Thus I was delighted when I came across a gargoyle-type rock hanging out above Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands is where the Green and Colorado Rivers meet. The down-cutting erosive power of these two rivers combined with the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and six million years of time are responsible for the breathtaking multitude of canyons and rock formations found in the Park.

A trip out the park road to Island in the Sky provides views of both basins and other prominent park features. A detour to Dead Horse Point State Park off of the main road shows the Colorado River doubling back and almost meeting itself in a major meander known as the Gooseneck.

The Colorado River winds around and almost meets itself at Gooseneck. This photo is taken from Dead Horse State Park and is looking down into Canyonlands.

Flowers, twisted juniper trees, wildlife and distant mountains add to the scenery.

Both Canyonlands and Arches National Park are easy day trips out of Moab in southeastern Utah. Sego Canyon with its fascinating examples of Indian rock art that I blogged about recently is also within easy driving distance.

One of the Southwest’s best known Indian rock art sites, Newspaper Rock, is located on the southern road into Canyonlands National Park. I will feature the site in my next blog.

Finger like canyons working downward to the Colorado River gradually cut away at the harder rock of White Mesa. This picture is taken from Grand View Point at the end of Island in the Sky Mesa. The maze-like canyons that disappear into the distance provide multiple reasons for the Parks name.

Flowers, like this Indian Paintbrush, add a dash of color to Canyonlands.

Junipers, even young ones, tend to look old, but this guy has obviously been around for a while.

Raven has a special place in Native American lore. His tricky ways, croaky voice, and ability to survive in extreme conditions give him a special position in the bird kingdom.

Spring is sprung but this young buck is still wearing his winter coat. While it may not be the height of fashion, it’s warm.

Distant snow-covered mountains, multi-colored rock cliffs, deep canyons and picturesque trees are all part of the Canyonlands National Park scenery.

Stark tree.

It is easy to lose yourself in the vast open spaces of the Southwest. My wife Peggy and Cloud prove the point.

The semi-arid climate, erosive forces of nature, and geology of Canyonlands National Park and the Southwest combine to create unique natural sculptures.

If my memory serves me correctly, these two sculptures are called the Beehives.

This massive monument of sandstone greets visitors at the north entrance to Canyonlands National Park.

The Ancient World of Indian Rock Art… On the Road

My wife Peggy and I have travelled throughout the western United States visiting and photographing Native American rock-art. We found this petroglyph of a cougar in the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site of southern new Mexico.

I grew up in the town of Diamond Springs, California located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Once upon a time Diamond had been known as Mo-lok’epakan, or, Morning Star’s Spring. It was a very holy place to the Maidu Indians. They came from miles around bearing their dead on litters for cremation.

Apparently the Maidu had been living in the area for a thousand years. It is a sad commentary on both our education system and how we treated the Indians that I grew up never hearing the name Morning Star’s Spring much less Mo-lok’epakan.

Our only connection with the Maidu’s lost heritage was finding an occasional arrowhead or Indian bead.

The thrill of finding arrowheads, however, led to a lifelong fascination with the culture of Native Americans. Over the past ten years that fascination has led me to an interest in Indian rock-art or petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are pecked or scraped from dark, rock varnish exposing a lighter color underneath. Pictographs are painted on rocks.

Indian rock-art is found at thousands of locations throughout the Western United States often near water or unique landmarks. Searching for rock-art is often like a treasure hunt. Here you can spot a group of petroglyphs on the left about a third of the way up the rock.

Peggy and I have explored and photographed major rock-art sites throughout the western US. Today I will introduce Sego Canyon located in eastern Utah off of I-70 near the small town of Thompson. Later I will blog about other sites such as the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site of New Mexico.

What captured me about Sego Canyon is the unique, almost ethereal rock-art of the archaic peoples, and the fact that the rock-art represents three distinctive Native American cultures ranging over 8000 years.

The pictographs featured below were made by archaic hunter-gatherer nomads who wandered across western North America between 6000 and 100 BC. Rock art is classified according to various styles and this particular style is known as Barrier Canyon. Its attributes include life-size, man-like creatures with hollow eyes, missing arms, antennae, and lots of snakes. The theory is that the figures may have represented shamanistic journeys to the underworld. I am voting for encounters with aliens… just kidding.

This rock-art, which is found in Sego Canyon, Utah, was created sometime between 6000 and 100 AD. It is classified as the Barrier Canon style. Note the hollow eye sockets, antennae, horns and snakes.

This is a close up showing images from the above photo. There is some thought that these figures reflect shamanistic visits to the underworld but one can understand why UFO fans might think they represent encounters with aliens.

These figures from the Barrier Canyon style seem wraith-like… red ghosts arising from the rock.

The Fremont Culture existed between 600 and 1200 AD and represented a more settled lifestyle. The rock-art of the Fremont Indians featured rectangular bodies with small heads. Both deer and mountain sheep are also found in the rock art below. Note the Indian shooting the mountain sheep with a large bow and arrow.

This rock-art found in Sego Canyon is done in the so-called Fremont style where rectangular figures with elaborate jewelry were common.

Mountain sheep are the most common animals found in Native America rock-art.

The final culture represented in Sego Canyon is that of the Ute Indians who lived in the area from 1300 AD up to 1880 when they were forced off the land to live on reservations. One indicator of more ‘modern’ rock-art is the presence of horses that didn’t exist in North America until the Spanish introduced them in the 1500s. Note the red leggings on the central figure. I also like the little red guy riding the horse. Yahoo! The round figure on the right is thought to represent a shield.

Identifying the age of petroglyphs is a difficult process. The appearance of horses shows that the petroglyphs were created after the 16th Century when the Spanish introduced horses to North America.

In my next post I will travel to Dinosaur National Monument, which also has some very unique Indian rock-art such as this one featuring what I assume is a woman with big hands and some very fat dogs.