Petroglyph styles dominate native rock art at Escalante Canyon

Along the sandstone cliffs of Escalante Canyon, hikers can view Native American rock art. Much of the rock art has been scarred by more recent etchings on the sandstone cliffs, which many would call graffiti.



QUICKREAD

Escalante Canyon Rock Art

Drive time and distance: 45 minutes, 31.4 miles

Length: One-half mile to whatever you feel like hiking

Hiking Time: 15 minutes to all day

Difficulty: Some easy climbing



“I’ve always thought about these (Native American) guys, up here pecking out pictures on sandstone cliffs, and wondered, ‘what would their spouses say when they got home?’

” ‘Oh sure, you’re out there drawing pictures on rock, while I’m back here, slaving over a hot fire, taking care of your rowdy kids, and helping Grandma chew the leather. This may be her last winter, you know.’ “

Thus soliloquized old buddy Bill Elmblad as he led me to a marked site within Bureau of Land Management territory in Escalante Canyon between Grand Junction and Delta — a site formerly inhabited by Native Americans for a thousand years.

We know this because of those pictures on the rock.

“I gotta’ tell ya, Hag,” Elmblad continued. “Marget Schultz is going to be mad. She said you weren’t supposed to write about this place until she had a chance to check it out herself ... before it’s overrun with vandals.”

Too late.

Other than Marget, do people really give you grief if you write about this stuff?” he asked.

“All the time,” I replied, “and, sometimes, rightfully so.

“I’ve had long conversations with BLM and Park Service folks about leading people to these historic sites for fear of vandalism,” I said. “But, if there are official signs leading to the area, the management philosophy is to protect it, but allow for its viewing. If there’s no sign, I don’t write about it because I don’t want it defaced any worse than it’s already been.”

BLM and the National Park Service do as good a job as possible to identify and protect native rock art in our area, but it’s a tough job. You’d have to have been there when “John Loves Mary, 2008,” appeared on a rock in this canyon. “Rex was Here, April 5, 1972,” “RM, 1911,” “GW, 1887.”

Much of the rock art Elmblad led me to last week had been scarred by more recent etchings on the sandstone cliffs of Escalante Canyon. Some of it you may call art. Some of it you may call graffiti.

Some of this rock art was defaced by bullet holes — attempts to erase traces of America’s past, or just idiots with beer and guns? Who knows.

Yet, it’s important to glimpse at a part of our past here in the arid southwest, where three distinct petroglyph styles dominate native rock art. They include Barrier Canyon rock art (6000 B.C.-100 B.C.), Fremont Indian rock art (600 A.D.-1250 A.D.), and Ute Indian rock art (1300 A.D.-1880 A.D.)

Bill and I did not find Barrier Canyon rock art the other day. We found rock art mostly attributed to Ute Indians, who may have displayed some of their artwork directly on top of older Ute art, or perhaps Fremont Indian rock art.

Just like Rex in 1972, and John and Mary in 2008, there’s a fine line between rock art and graffiti.

Bill pointed to one beautiful outline of a horse. Neither Ute nor Fremont people left that etching. It was much more modern, yet with likens and mosses growing over this horse, it was artwork etched many decades ago.

Elmblad led me to three or four different spots the other day, spots you can drive to, or find within a couple-hundred-yard walk. A couple spots you could photograph from the car. Others you must scramble up the hillside to find.

I’m not telling you where all of them are, since they were not marked.

To reach the marked ones, drive 28.8 miles south on Highway 50 toward Delta. Turn right, or west, on the Escalante Canyon Road, then travel 2.6 miles to the railroad tracks and the Gunnison River.

Don’t cross either. Park out of the way near the Delta County gravel pit sign, then look to your right, or north. You’ll find the rock-art panels about two-tenths of a mile from where you are. Follow an old two-rut ATV trail on public property to the sandstone cliffs until you find a couple of brown carsonite sign posts that say, “PLEASE don’t erase traces of America’s Past.”

Then please don’t.

If you continue on the Escalante Canyon Road across the tracks and the Gunnison River, you’ll soon come to a crossing of Escalante Creek. You can ford the creek with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and continue until you come to the Dry Mesa Road.

Veer right, and in .3 miles you’ll come to another archaeological site marked by the BLM.

This site has numerous markings from modern man, scratched over many Ute Indian markings. Here, you can see what graffiti is all about.

It’ll make you appreciate those original Native American artists who pecked out beautiful pictures on rock while their spouses were back home cooking, cleaning, or helping Grandma chew the leather.


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