Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

September 22, 2005 again - Petroglyphs.

Arches and Canyonlands are about landscape, pure and simple. If anyone ever lived there, there’s no sign of it now. We like them for their

looks, nothing deeper than that. But there are other places in the area that bear traces of people who used to live there. They are protected because they mean something to people, sometimes even people who are still alive, though they don’t live there any more.

On my way to Moab, I sought out a spot that I’d flagged on the map, Sego Canyon, where there were supposed to be petroglyphs. Finding it took some doing – it’s a few miles north of the small town of Thompson Springs, with only a small sign pointing out the road that leads there. That’s on purpose – while the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its address is given as “unlisted.” There is a small parking lot, a few picnic tables, a vault toilet, and a few descriptive plaques there, but I think the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the site, would much rather people just didn’t stop.

And with reason. The petroglyphs have clearly been visited by all sorts of folks in the past two hundred years, many of whom were happy to leave their on marks on the walls; their names, their own drawings in a crude style but nothing like drawings left by the natives much longer ago. The graffiti is interesting, in a way, and part of our own history, but the site is unprotected, and it would be too easy for someone to follow suit today.

The canyon was dry and sunny when I was there, though the bed of a wash suggested that it could flood easily if conditions were right. Once there was a yard there for cattle, and further up the canyon there is apparently a ghost town, though I didn’t see it. So I guess there was something there to bring people in, thousands of years back when the first people drew shapes and forms high up on the rocks. Three groups of people came through here to leave their marks – before Anglos settled the region in the 19th century, that is. Some of the earliest drawings, which the BLM plaque put at 2000 years before the present era, show figures that look a lot like our vision of aliens – big round empty eye sockets and heads with antennae. I think this has led some people to associate petroglyphs with UFOs – at any rate, when I googled Sego Canyon, I found a website about UFOs. A later group of people drew triangular figures with very elaborate collar-like necklaces; the BLM dates them to around 600 CE, and puts them in the Fremont group. I

guess those people lived all over the region, so once something could be found to date one set of drawings, similar ones were assumed to come from the same people and the same period. The latest drawings come from historic time – after there were written records from Anglo explorers or invaders, and after the Spanish had introduced horses to the region.

They show relatively realistic people, horses, and lovely and lovely four-legged animals with curly horns – sheep, perhaps? Then there are the more recent additions – a man with a sword, his face in profile and the initials G.H. above him; Smith Vinger’s name and the date August 14, 1881; the initials of F. B. and the name “Jesus;” more recently the name of David Olearain, 1977, “son of Andy O.”

Whoever David Olearain is, he must be at least middle aged by now. I wonder if he’s proud of having put his name on that wall, along with the work of prehistoric people who lived there four thousand years ago. Maybe by now he’s kind of embarrassed, and he’s taught his kids and grandkids to have more respect for the people who came before them. But maybe not, maybe he thinks it’s a hoot and he doesn’t much mind what his sons and grandsons do, charging around the canyons on ATVs and drinking beer.

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All text and photos on this site ©Joy E. Hecht.