sand island petroglyphs   13 comments

Posted at 9:24 pm in Arizona,Art,geology,history,Utah

Baby Rocks formation near Kayenta, Arizona

In my last post about travels through Utah, I wrote of our campsite in the high desert, a few miles west of Kanab. We stayed in that area for the first few days of November before moving eastward. My original plan had been to camp at one of several dispersed sites that are located along a couple of dirt roads north of 89 between Kanab and Page. However, after making inquiries at the Kanab BLM office, it became apparent that I’d have to look elsewhere due to road closures. In such arid regions, one would think that the roads would be easily maintained, but not so. Rock falls and wash-outs can make roads entirely impassable within minutes. Clean-up and rebuilding can take weeks to several months, so it’s always wise to stop in at the local BLM office to check on road and weather conditions before venturing off the beaten path.

With my plans foiled due to a recent rock fall, I decided to spend the better part of a day on the road, driving east from Kanab, past Lake Powell and over Glen Canyon Dam, through Page, Arizona, then taking routes 98 and 160, through the Navajo Nation lands of the Four Corners region, before turning north and re-entering Utah near Bluff. Once in Utah, I figured that I would find somewhere to camp the night. The drive from Page to Bluff was my first trip through the Navajo lands. I passed a number of farms, many with hogan structures in the yard. Also seen along the way were several hand-painted signs for community horse races. Northeast of the town of Kayenta, I took the above photo of Baby Rocks, an unusual formation of sand- and siltstone that has broken up into vertical towers which resemble a gathering of people (click on all images for larger version). From the highway, it was also possible to see several of the immense rock formations of Monument Valley.

view of a panel of petroglyphs on cliff face at Sand Island site near Bluff, Utah

By late afternoon, I was back over the Utah border, heading north on 191. I crossed the San Juan River, then turned east toward Bluff. Soon, I spotted signs for the Sand Island BLM campground and made a mental note to return there if I did not find a suitable campsite elsewhere. Continuing east, I made a quick exploration of Bluff, then returned to the BLM campground. Once again, I found myself almost alone – which is always nice. I chose a campsite beneath a tall gold-leafed cottonwood, near the towering sandstone cliffs that run parallel to the river. Before making dinner, I took the dogs for a walk over to the cliffs to study the many panels of petroglyphs which were a good part of the reason for my choice of stopping points for this evening. Various sources I’ve read date some of these petroglyphs to about 2500 years old.

our campsite, as seen from the trail along the petroglyphs (far right). The San Juan River is obscured from view by the trees.

Although the elevation was over 4000 feet at this location, we enjoyed one of the warmest nights of our trip. The campground is very sheltered and the south-facing cliffs must store a great deal of heat on sunny days. Although quiet during our visit, this site is a staging area for river rafting on the San Juan, so must see a lot more traffic during warmer months of the year.

anthropomorphic figures surrounded by Bighorn Sheep and other creatures

The petroglyph panels at this site are protected by a chain link fence along the sections with the highest aggregation of figures. However, the fence is close enough to afford an excellent view of the glyphs. I walked the length of the expanse of sandstone cliff and also found a number of isolated figures high above ground level. As we followed the roadway, Ravens occasionally appeared to soar along the upper edge of the cliff face.

several Kokopelli figures appear in one area of the glyphs (figures playing flutes)

Figures at this site include many anthropomorphs, perhaps most notably, a small group of Kokopelli figures – those playing flutes in the above photo. There are also many animal figures forming lines like small herds. The petroglyphs at Sand Island are the most accessible of those located along the San Juan River. There exist many more sites which may only be viewed from the water. Perhaps some day I will have a chance to take a rafting trip to see these additional sites.

geometric and more abstract figures appear in some of the panels

I spent awhile photographing the petroglyphs in the evening and again the next morning. The warmer light a couple of hours after sunrise seemed to produce the best results. The number of figures is so great at this site, that it could provide many of hours of study for those who are interested in such things. I would return to this campground later in this trip, only to notice new figures that had somehow been overlooked during my previous visit.

After shooting more photos, I packed up the van and set out for the next stop on our exploration of southeast Utah – Hovenweep National Monument – to camp and visit the stone dwellings. More about that in an upcoming post.

cliff face as seen from our campsite

Written by bev wigney on January 5th, 2011