Two Pictograph Sites in Southern Utah

There are literally thousands of petroglyph and pictograph sites in the Four Corners area.  I just revisited two of them this last weekend.  One painted on the roof and wall of an alcove overlooking a small canyon bottom; the other painted on the interior wall of a little circular room in a small cliff dwelling.  It had been a while since we had been to either, and not wanting to go plowing across the crypto, it took a bit of careful hiking to find them.  After dodging blood crazed turkey hunters intent on making a kill, and fording a stream flowing very high from the recent snowpack run-off (the wave of water washing over the CR-V was impressive) we managed to locate our first site.

Cliff Dwelling

The cliff dwelling is set into an alcove overlooking one of the numerous small canyons in San Juan County, Utah.  Consisting of ten to twelve rooms and a small kiva, the site is one of my favorites to visit.  This weekend was the first time I came armed with a decent headlamp.  I knew there was interior wall decoration in one of the rooms, a small circular room about 2 meters in diameter with a low ceiling, maybe 1.5 meters high.  It consists of an alternating pattern of horizontal black stripes in two bands or rows.  What I had missed before, without a decent light, were the two figures painted in black below the the striped bands.   Between the lower row of stripes and the floor surface are what appear to be a humpback flute player facing a very well-fed animal of some kind, possibly a sheep.

Small room with interior decoration.

Interior wall murals (painted and incised) appear in the San Juan region during the Pueblo II period, around 1000 CE.  There are beautiful examples to be found in the area from Mesa Verde to Cedar Mesa and south.  It is understandable why kivas and Great Houses would be adorned with interior murals.  Why a tiny room barely big enough for a person to kneel in would warrant interior wall painting is a good question.  I’ll take any suggestions.  And no, I didn’t even consider trying to crawl inside.  Damaging the door would be unforgivable! 

"Humpback Flute Player" figure

The second rock art site we hiked to is located a bit up a  small tributary to Montezuma Canyon.  It is situated under a small overhang/alcove, on a bench above the canyon floor and is almost invisible from the canyon bottom.  It includes hundreds of elements ranging from geometric forms, dots, zig-zags, tick-marks, anthropomorphs and zoomorphs, to ever-present hand-prints. 

Pictograph near Montezuma Canyon

The pictograph panel is about 10 meters long by 3 meters high and is comprised entirely of painted images, all rendered in red pigment.  Interestingly, the images appear to read “oldest to youngest” from left to right with Basketmaker II anthropomorphs on the left, and “skinny” Pueblo II-III figures on the right.  Basketmaker III and Pueblo I imageary consists of geometric designs, a sunburst and small anthropomorphic figures. 

Two very different yet equally interesting sites with hundreds of, yet again, equally interesting sites located in between.  I guess we need to plan another trip to the desert, I hope sooner than later.  It’s been a very long winter.

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