Utah’s Petroglyph Garden

Click to view Petroglyph Panel at the Fremont Indian State Park & Museum, Photo Courtesy Sevier County, Kreig Rasmussen, Photographer
Petroglyph Panel at Fremont Indian State Park & Museum
Photo Courtesy Sevier County
Kreig Rasmussen, Photographer

Hi, I’m Ru Mahoney with Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.

Utah’s culture is rich with vestiges of our pioneer history, and the landscape is accented by visible signs of the European settlers who forged our modern communities. But the tapestry of Utah’s cultural heritage is interwoven with much older threads, as indelible and enduring as the landscape itself.

In the 1980’s, in the southwestern quadrant of central Utah, the construction of interstate 70 unearthed a secret over one thousand years old. The valleys and canyons of what is now Sevier County, already known as a seasonal thoroughfare for the Paiute, had an even older history as home to the largest community of Fremont Indians ever discovered. Influenced by their Anasazi cousins to the southwest, the Fremont culture encompassed a diverse group of tribes that inhabited the western Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin area from roughly 400 to 1350 A.D. Archaeologists tell us they were a people of ingenuity in their engineering, aggression in their social interactions, and lasting creativity in their artistic expression. Divergent theories on their fate suggest they drove the Anasazi out of the Four Corners region and eventually migrated to further landscapes, or that northern groups of Fremont peoples joined with bands of Shoshone and became the Ute Indians of the Uinta. Whatever the truth of their ultimate fate may be, nowhere is their history more tangible than at Fremont Indian State Park just south of Sevier, UT along I-70. This year-round state park offers visitors a treasure trove of artifacts and curated exhibits in an excellent visitor’s center. But the most authentic interaction with these past peoples comes from exploring the surrounding landscape.

Driving the winding road into Clear Creek Canyon, ghostly figures begin to emerge; pictographs painted in shades of ocher and umber, and pale petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls, reveal an archaic and epic account of Utah’s ancestral past. A unique creation story, in which a shrike leads the Fremont people from a dark and cold underworld through the stem of reed into the warm world above, plays out across the canyon walls. A craggy outcrop of rock in the shape of an eagle is said to be watching over the reed to the underworld below to insure nothing wicked escapes into our world. A concentric lunar calendar and an abundance of zoomorphics speak of a cultural identity conceived in relation to the broader astrological world, and a reverence for anthropomorphized neighbors such as bighorn sheep and elk. Spider Woman Rock juxtaposes a powerful figure of Native American mythology with the pedestrian humility of a nursing mother. And Cave of 100 Hands is a visceral exhibition of a humanity simultaneously reminiscent and divergent from our own.

While the Fremont culture is believed to have died out or been absorbed by other modern groups, Clear Creek Canyon and the rock art sites of Fremont Indian State Park are significant among the modern Kanosh and Koosharem Bands of the Paiute who began using the area and leaving their own indelible marks on the canyon walls after the disappearance of the Fremont peoples around 1400 A.D. On the vernal and autumnal equinox (occurring in the third or fourth week of March and September each year) the eagle rock casts its shadow over the reed rock at dawn, breathing life into ancient tales of our ancestral history.

Fremont Indian State Park is a notable destination for those interested in rock art sites, many of which are suited to families of all ages and mobility, including visitors with strollers and wheelchairs. Stop in the visitor’s center to borrow or purchase a guide to the petroglyphs and pictographs for deeper insight into the Fremont culture and an unforgettable glimpse into Utah’s past.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Ru Mahoney.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy Sevier County, Kreig Rasmussen, Photographer
Text:     Ru Mahoney, Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.


Additional Reading:

http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/fremont-indian/

http://stateparks.utah.gov/stateparks/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2015/02/Fremont_IndianBrochure.pdf

http://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/historyculture/fremont-indians.htm

http://www.thefurtrapper.com/fremont_indians.htm

Utah’s Petroglyph Garden

Petroglyph Panel at Fremont Indian State Park & Museum
Photo Courtesy Sevier County
Kreig Rasmussen, Photographer

Hi, I’m Ru Mahoney with Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.

Utah’s culture is rich with vestiges of our pioneer history, and the landscape is accented by visible signs of the European settlers who forged our modern communities. But the tapestry of Utah’s cultural heritage is interwoven with much older threads, as indelible and enduring as the landscape itself.

In the 1980’s, in the southwestern quadrant of central Utah, the construction of interstate 70 unearthed a secret over one thousand years old. The valleys and canyons of what is now Sevier County, already known as a seasonal thoroughfare for the Paiute, had an even older history as home to the largest community of Fremont Indians ever discovered. Influenced by their Anasazi cousins to the southwest, the Fremont culture encompassed a diverse group of tribes that inhabited the western Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin area from roughly 400 to 1350 A.D. Archaeologists tell us they were a people of ingenuity in their engineering, aggression in their social interactions, and lasting creativity in their artistic expression. Divergent theories on their fate suggest they drove the Anasazi out of the Four Corners region and eventually migrated to further landscapes, or that northern groups of Fremont peoples joined with bands of Shoshone and became the Ute Indians of the Uinta. Whatever the truth of their ultimate fate may be, nowhere is their history more tangible than at Fremont Indian State Park just south of Sevier, UT along I-70. This year-round state park offers visitors a treasure trove of artifacts and curated exhibits in an excellent visitor’s center. But the most authentic interaction with these past peoples comes from exploring the surrounding landscape.

Driving the winding road into Clear Creek Canyon, ghostly figures begin to emerge; pictographs painted in shades of ocher and umber, and pale petroglyphs carved into the canyon walls, reveal an archaic and epic account of Utah’s ancestral past. A unique creation story, in which a shrike leads the Fremont people from a dark and cold underworld through the stem of reed into the warm world above, plays out across the canyon walls. A craggy outcrop of rock in the shape of an eagle is said to be watching over the reed to the underworld below to insure nothing wicked escapes into our world. A concentric lunar calendar and an abundance of zoomorphics speak of a cultural identity conceived in relation to the broader astrological world, and a reverence for anthropomorphized neighbors such as bighorn sheep and elk. Spider Woman Rock juxtaposes a powerful figure of Native American mythology with the pedestrian humility of a nursing mother. And Cave of 100 Hands is a visceral exhibition of a humanity simultaneously reminiscent and divergent from our own.

While the Fremont culture is believed to have died out or been absorbed by other modern groups, Clear Creek Canyon and the rock art sites of Fremont Indian State Park are significant among the modern Kanosh and Koosharem Bands of the Paiute who began using the area and leaving their own indelible marks on the canyon walls after the disappearance of the Fremont peoples around 1400 A.D. On the vernal and autumnal equinox (occurring in the third or fourth week of March and September each year) the eagle rock casts its shadow over the reed rock at dawn, breathing life into ancient tales of our ancestral history.

Fremont Indian State Park is a notable destination for those interested in rock art sites, many of which are suited to families of all ages and mobility, including visitors with strollers and wheelchairs. Stop in the visitor’s center to borrow or purchase a guide to the petroglyphs and pictographs for deeper insight into the Fremont culture and an unforgettable glimpse into Utah’s past.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Ru Mahoney.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy Sevier County, Kreig Rasmussen, Photographer
Text:     Ru Mahoney, Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon.


Additional Reading:

http://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/fremont-indian/

http://stateparks.utah.gov/stateparks/wp-content/uploads/sites/26/2015/02/Fremont_IndianBrochure.pdf

http://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/historyculture/fremont-indians.htm

http://www.thefurtrapper.com/fremont_indians.htm

The Sistine Chapel in Utah

The Sistine Chapel in Utah
Holy Ghost group, part of the
Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon
Photo Courtesy
David Sucec, BCSProject
(photographer, copyright holder)

Utah is famous for the beautiful and mysterious rock art found on its colorful canyon walls.

There are two main types of rock art. A petroglyph is an image that is pecked, incised, or scratched into rock. Petroglyphs are often found on rock surfaces coated with desert varnish. The dark stained varnish provides high contrast as the image is carved into the lighter underlying stone.

Pictographs, however, are painted onto rather than carved into a rock surface. Mineral pigments such as hematite, limonite, azurite, and gypsum were used to produce long lasting liquid and solid paints. Paint was applied with brushes, fingertips or hands, with fiber wads and even by spraying or blowing paint. It’s possible that vegetable dyes were also used by ancient artists but these would have been washed away without leaving a trace.

Archaeologists classify ancient rock art into different styles according to image content, drawing techniques, location, and the relationships between various picture elements. The so-called Barrier Canyon Style is well-known in eastern Utah where its greatest level of expression is found.

The Barrier Canyon Style features human-like figures with a supernatural appearance. Torso lengths are exaggerated and shaped like mummys or bottles. Heads may have horns, rabbitlike ears or antennalike projections. Eyes of the figures are often round and staring. Hands, if present, may be holding plant-like images or snakes. Aside from the human-like figures, birds, canines, bighorn sheep, and rabbits are also common in Barrier Canyon Style compositions.

Cultural affiliations of the Barrier Canyon Style artists are still not fully understood. But most archeaologists agree that the artists were part of small bands of nomadic people who roamed the Colorado Plateau between 7500 BC and 300 AD.

Perhaps the best place to view the Barrier Canyon style is in the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon near Canyonlands National Park. The Great Gallery features a 300 feet long mural with over 60 figures. David Sucec (pronounced Soosek)–who is coordinating an effort to photograph and record all Barrier Canyon Style rock art–calls the Great Gallery ‘Utah’s Sistine Chapel.’

So far over 230 different sites featuring Barrier Canyon Style rock art have been discovered. In Utah, look for them in the Book Cliffs area, the San Rafael Swell, around Moab and in Canyonlands National Park.

Thanks to the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, Utah for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright David Sucec
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

BCSProject. http://www.bcsproject.org/about.html

Cole, Sally. 1990. Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Boulder, CO: Johnson Printing

Repanshek, Kurt. Traces of a Lost People. 2005. Smithsonian magazine. March 2005. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/lost.html

Schaafsma, Polly. The Rock Art of Utah. 1971, Third Printing 1987, Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Vol. 65, paper, 169 pp.

 

Utah’s Sistine Chapel

Utah’s Sistine Chapel
Holy Ghost group, part of the
Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon
Photo Courtesy
David Sucec, BCSProject
(photographer, copyright holder)

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Utah is famous for the beautiful and mysterious rock art found on its colorful canyon walls.

There are two main types of rock art. A petroglyph is an image that is pecked, incised, or scratched into rock. Petroglyphs are often found on rock surfaces coated with desert varnish. The dark stained varnish provides high contrast as the image is carved into the lighter underlying stone.

Pictographs, however, are painted onto rather than carved into a rock surface. Mineral pigments such as hematite, limonite, azurite, and gypsum were used to produce long lasting liquid and solid paints. Paint was applied with brushes, fingertips or hands, with fiber wads and even by spraying or blowing paint. It’s possible that vegetable dyes were also used by ancient artists but these would have been washed away without leaving a trace.

Archaeologists classify ancient rock art into different styles according to image content, drawing techniques, location, and the relationships between various picture elements. The so-called Barrier Canyon Style is well-known in eastern Utah where its greatest level of expression is found.

The Barrier Canyon Style features human-like figures with a supernatural appearance. Torso lengths are exaggerated and shaped like mummies or bottles. Heads may have horns, rabbitlike ears or antenna-like projections. Eyes of the figures are often round and staring. Hands, if present, may be holding plant-like images or snakes. Aside from the human-like figures, birds, canines, bighorn sheep, and rabbits are also common in Barrier Canyon Style compositions.

Cultural affiliations of the Barrier Canyon Style artists are still not fully understood. But most archaeologists agree that the artists were part of small bands of nomadic people who roamed the Colorado Plateau between 7500 BC and 300 AD.

Perhaps the best place to view the Barrier Canyon style is in the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon near Canyonlands National Park. The Great Gallery features a 300 foot long mural with over 60 figures. David Sucec (pronounced Soosek)–who is coordinating an effort to photograph and record all Barrier Canyon Style rock art–calls the Great Gallery ‘Utah’s Sistine Chapel.’

So far over 230 different sites featuring Barrier Canyon Style rock art have been discovered. In Utah, look for them in the Book Cliffs area, the San Rafael Swell, around Moab and in Canyonlands National Park.

Thanks to the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, Utah for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright David Sucec

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:

BCSProject. http://www.bcsproject.org/about.html

Cole, Sally. 1990. Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Boulder, CO: Johnson Printing

Repanshek, Kurt. Traces of a Lost People. 2005. Smithsonian magazine. March 2005. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/lost.html

Schaafsma, Polly. The Rock Art of Utah. 1971, Third Printing 1987, Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Vol. 65, paper, 169 pp.