Spectacular Tales on Stone: The Rock Art of Indian Creek
Spanning Rt 211 from its junction with Rt 191 to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Indian Creek Scenic Byway is a drop-dead gorgeous drive featuring towering sandstone formations, including North & South Six Shooter Peaks, lush valley, and beautiful canyon scenery. It's one of the more fantastic scenic drives in a state with no shortage of them. Hidden in plain sight along the drive are numerous rock art sites that are very much worthy of exploring. In this article we'll dive into some of those rock art sites and give you an idea of what you can expect on a journey through the beautiful Indian Creek Scenic Byway.
The first rock art site along Indian Creek is also the most visited and only signed site that we'll cover in this article, Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument. Here, more than 650 petroglyphs can be found carved into a single 200-square foot-panel. The depictions date as early as 2,000 years ago and are representative of several cultures, including the Archaic, Basketmaker, Fremont, and Anasazi. The popular site requires only a short walk from the parking area to view.
Depictions of buffalo, deer, bear, squirrels, reptiles, human-like figures, human hands and feet, animal tracks, hunt scenes, wheels, shields, geometric shapes, and more can all be found on the panel, which is one of the largest collections of petroglyphs found in America.
Many of the depictions on Newspaper Rock contain polydactyl, a condition of having an extra toe or finger. In most cases the extra appendage is a sixth toe beside the small toe. An estimated 3% of Native Americans around this time period were born polydactyl, much greater than the 0.2% of today's population. These natives were often revered among the community and honored when they passed away by being buried in or near ritual rooms.
Nine Sheep Site
The next site along Indian Creek is located 0.5 miles west of Newspaper Rock. This and all remaining sites in this article do not have formal names, so we've created names based on images found at each respective site. For this site you'll want to park at the first pull off on the right side of the road after Newspaper Rock, which will be near coordinates 37.9918556, -109.5220161. From the pull off walk west along the road to coordinates 37.9938608, -109.5251301 where you'll see the formation in the photo below.
There are a number of petroglyphs on this wall, including nine sheep in a row, several human-like depictions, other various animals, and geometric shapes. Walking through the brush isn't pleasant, but long pants can take some of the burden away. The panel below features nine sheep or deer standing in a line and can be found about fifteen feet up from ground level.
An interesting bird-like depiction can be found along the wall at eye level. Looks like a penguin to me, but clearly that's not the case.
Several interesting human-like depictions, possibly representing a family, at eye level as well. There are many more depictions along the wall, but these were the ones that stuck out the most to me.
As you walk back to your vehicle there are petroglyphs on the surface of the formation in the photo below. This is located roughly 20' before reaching the pull off where you parked.
The petroglyphs here are less interesting than those found just east of here and include depictions of various animals, human-like figures, and indistinguishable shapes.
Centipede, Scorpion, & Pictographs Site
The next rock art site is located near a bend in the road right at mile marker 4, near coordinates 38.0201791, -109.5387896. From the large parking area on the right side of the road, walk along the road for roughly 150' until a foot trail appears on the right. The photo below was taken from the parking area.
The trail leads up the slope until it reaches the base of the formation where you'll find a number of fascinating petroglyphs. Among them are depictions of human-like figures, various animals, astronomical symbols, a centipede scorpion, snakes, human footprints, and several unknown images. One of the more interesting depictions in the photo below is the six toed, bow wielding anthropomorphic figure near the bottom left. You'll notice that one foot has five toes and the other has six, so the polydactyl theme continues on. There is a fair amount of graffiti on the panel, but it should not detract you from visiting.
Another group of interesting petroglyphs found nearby features a centipede and eight depictions of what are likely astronomical symbols.
The scorpion below is also very interesting and can be found near the images above.
Just below the scorpion and at ground level you'll find a human-like figure squatting on a snake, holding a spherical object.
From here, follow the trail back in the direction you came but stay high along the base of the cliff and around the corner. The trail may vanish, but stay high and after rounding the corner you'll find several more fascinating petroglyphs as well as a number of pictographs. The first images that you'll likely see are near ground level and likely depict an astronomical event. You'll also find a number of red pictographs to the left of this.
A close up of the pictographs that depict some form of animal. The animal at the bottom of the panel sure looks like a dinosaur to me.
To the right of these panels you'll also find a number of animal and astronomical depictions high up on the wall.
Abstract Art & Big Feet Site
The next site is located roughly 0.8 miles west. A pull off for the site can be found along the right side of the road near coordinates 38.0301471, -109.5409200. From the pull off walk about 500' west and look for the formation in the photo below.
Ascend the rocky slope in a direction that will lead you to the lower right portion of the formation containing the darkest desert varnish. Here you will find a slew of petroglyphs, including snakes, astronomical symbols, human-like and animal depictions, and much more. One of the more interesting depictions on the panel below are the two human-like figures who appear to be fist fighting. The crescent moon depiction near the bottom left of the panel is one that will repeat itself several times at this site.
Immediately to the right of the panel above is the panel below, which is highlighted by an unusual anthropomorphic figure near the far right.
Another interesting figure nearby is what appears to be a human-like figure standing on top of what might be a scorpion. Kind of reminds me of the movie Donnie Darko.
There are depictions of hands, animals, astronomical symbols, and human-like images further to the left of these panels. The anthropomorphic figure immediately right of the crescent moon in the photo below is fairly fascinating.
Along the base of the formation you'll find the only pictograph that I discovered at this site. What it represents is anyone's guess. A headless human with outstretched arms?
Further left there are several more fascinating images, including a horned figure, an unusual animal depiction, concentric circles, and an anthropomorphic figure.
To the left of the images above you'll find a large geometric shape, snake, sheep, dots that run up the wall, and two very large footprints, one with five toes, the other with four.
High above the depiction above you'll find an interesting panel that might have been used as some sort of astronomical calendar. The photo below was taken with a 3x zoom, so it's up there quite a ways.
One of the last images in this area is one of my favorite depictions along Indian Creek, but what it represents is unclear. Possibly a pregnant woman. It's unclear what the artist's intentions were and like most rock art its meaning will likely remain unknown. Pretty interesting in any case.
There are numerous other rock art sites along Indian Creek, including Shay Canyon, but those will have to be left for another time. With the area having poor cell reception, it's a good idea to download offline maps if you plan on using the coordinates in this article to locate the parking areas for the rock art sites. The rock art sites listed in this article are all west facing and are best explored in the morning when the sun isn't casting light on the panels. This article was written with the expectation that you'll begin your drive from Rt 191. If you plan on visiting the sites traveling eastbound, the parking areas will all be on the left side of the road. Take only photos, leave only footprints, and honor the artists' work by not touching the images.