sego canyon   16 comments

Posted at 1:36 pm in history,traveling alone,Utah

It’s been almost a month since the most recent entry to this blog. I’d been planning to catch up with a few posts to finish writing about last autumn’s trip. After all, it’s not long until I leave to head back north – about a week, in fact. However, time seems to slip away from me. What can I say?

In my last post, I wrote about visiting Arches National Park. Upon leaving Arches, I drove north up to the town of Thompson Springs, Utah. My destination was Sego Canyon, site of a number of petroglyphs and unusual pictographs. The weather was odd – the skies a gloomy pallid gray that warned of snow. I wasn’t concerned as the forecast was for snow at higher elevation, but not until that evening.

I took the old highway route into Thompson Springs. The pavement was incredibly heaved and broken up. So much so that the van pitched like a ship in heavy seas. Looking in the rear view mirror, I could see two rather unhappy looking dogs being bounced all over the mattress. I believe our top speed might have been around 15 miles per hour. In any case, eventually, we arrived at the town of Thompson Springs. The directions to the pictographs were rather vague, so I toured up and down the short main drag looking for some clue as the their whereabouts. What I found was, for the most part, a collection of long abandoned buildings. Many of the doors were open and one could see the broken remnants of furniture and bathroom fixtures. It was a little depressing and not what I’d been expecting.

After poking around a little, I came to the conclusion that it must be necessary to cross the railway tracks and proceed north out of town toward the backdrop of flat-topped buttes. However, the lane appeared to wind into an area of houses and mobile homes surrounded by what looked to be mostly ancient, broken-down construction equipment. I paused to look around, trying to figure out a route as I wasn’t keen on driving into someone’s yard. My instincts were telling me that I should just turn around and head back to Moab, reasoning that perhaps I’d drive down this road right into some kind of weird ambush devised for capturing unsuspecting tourists. However, the stubborn part of me won out, arguing that I’d driven all of this way and I shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet. After a little more internal debate, I drove onwards – slowly. At the north edge of town, I pulled up beside an old wooden schoolhouse. Just as I was about to draw the line on this misadventure, I spotted what I’d been looking for — a sign indicating that I was on the right track. There it was – a hand-painted wooden sign of one of the key figures on the pictograph, nailed to the side of the schoolhouse (see above).

Sure of my way, I drove down the narrow paved road, past curious cattle standing among sage and rabbitbrush. After a couple of miles, I nosed the van down and back up out of a deep wash, then found us approaching a small parking area with a few interpretive signs. To my surprise, there was a small 4-wheel drive SUV parked in the lot. The woman standing beside it moved quickly to get inside, but then hesitated (I suspect) after seeing that I was a woman driver. I parked and walked up to her, saying that I’d almost given up and turned back after taking a look around town and becoming discouraged. She nodded and said that she and her husband, who was busily shooting photos, had almost chickened out too. Somehow, it was rather reassuring knowing that I’m not much kookier than others.

The panels nearest to the parking area featured both pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (carved or pecked-out images). The signage described the above panel as being both Anasazi Basketmaker type figures painted in red, but superimposed with Fremont type figures pecked out of the rock. Click on all images to see larger views.

Another large panel was created more recently – as indicated by the presence of horses – by the Ute peoples of this region. While photographing these panels, the husband-photographer walked up and quite excitedly pointed around the corner of the formation, saying that the panel on the other side was just amazing.

I wandered around the corner only to be confronted by the most incredible panels of rock art that I’d yet seen during my travels. The collection of humanoid figures were each larger than life. They appeared ghost-like, floating on the sandstone surface. Their shapes were mysterious – strange heads with large, empty eye-sockets and some with extensions that looked to be parts of headdresses. The most central figures seemed to be holding up zig-zag shaped snakes. They are in the Barrier Canyon style, which is considered to be about 2000+ years old. I stood back and studied the panel, finding the effect of the images almost eerie. Normally, the art historian in me tends to kick into gear when I come upon fascinating art or architecture. In this case, my experience of this panel was different – perhaps felt on a more instinctive level. I lingered awhile, studying the images, but found it difficult to concentrate on any one of them. It was as though this group of beings was alive and oddly imposing. I took a number of photos and then retreated to my van. By now, the couple in the SUV had departed and I was now alone.

I turned the van around and began the drive back out of the canyon. The sky was looking whiter and there was the scent of snow in the air. On the way back to Moab, I tried to think of a place where we might spend the night – some place where I could plug in the little heater to keep us warm for the night. A few miles north of Moab, I turned west off the road, stopping at the kiosk for Dead Horse Point State Park and the northern part of Canyonlands National Monument. Information on the state park stated that there were sites with electric plug-ins, so I decided to go on ahead. The park is located at the top of a high plateau, far above Moab. By the time we reached the park headquarters, a stiff wind was blasting fine snow across a landscape of sagebrush and twisted juniper. I was told that there might only be one other camper in the park that evening. I found a site that seemed sheltered from the worst of the wind and got out the extension cord to set up the little electric heater and trouble lamp that I use for heat and light in the van. By now, the wind speed was picking up and wet snow began to build up over the earth, trees and our van. This is the kind of weather where, back at the farm, we would have battened down the hatches and made a pot of homemade soup. I couldn’t quite manage that here, so instead, fired up my propane camp stove in the nearby sun shelter. It would be a quick dinner tonight — some canned soup — hastily warmed as the weather turned increasingly nasty. By the time the soup was warm, I felt like one of those researchers in the Antarctic – struggling to put away the stove while blasted in the face by blinding snow. Both dogs looked up from their little nests on the sleeping bag, giving me a grumpy look as I let freezing air into the van while struggling to climb in with my pot of soup. Reasonably warm and well fed, we hunkered down for the night while frigid winds whistled by. The message was unmistakable. Winter was moving in. Time to be heading further south.

Written by bev wigney on March 23rd, 2011