Ancient Rock Art on the Colorado Plateau

Newspaper Rock petroglyphs on dark stone in Utah's Canyonlands National Park.
Newspaper Rock in Canyonlands National Park. Photo © lenpri/123rf.

The Colorado Plateau contains a rich tapestry of pictographs (drawings painted on rock using natural dyes) and petroglyphs (images carved into stone). Searching out rock-art panels can easily become an obsession, and it’s a good one, since it will lead you far off the beaten path and deep into canyons that were once central for the area’s ancient inhabitants.

  • Boynton Overlook: Stop at this overlook between the towns of Escalante and Boulder and scan the cliff face across the river to see a pictograph of many handprints.
  • Fremont Petroglyphs: Easily viewed along Highway 24 in Capitol Reef’s Fremont River Canyon, these petroglyphs depict horned mountain sheep and humans in headdresses.
  • Newspaper Rock: This easily reached showcase of rock art with an astonishing variety of images is located just outside Canyonlands’ Needles District.
  • Great Gallery: One of the most important rock-art sites in the United States is found at the end of a half-day hike in Canyonlands’ Horseshoe Canyon Unit.
  • Delicate Arch: On this popular hiking trail in Arches National Park, look for an often-overlooked panel of Ute-style rock-art images.
  • Holly Ruins: You’ll find many petroglyphs in this portion of Hovenweep National Monument, one of Utah’s best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan villages.

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