Petroglyphs and Pictographs

Petroglyphs near Moab Utah

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument features a rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs.


Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument features a rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs. It is located 53 miles south of Moab outside of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The rock is a part of the Wingate sandstone cliffs that enclose the upper end of Indian Creek Canyon, and is covered by hundreds of petroglyph—one of the largest, best preserved and easily accessed groups in the Southwest.

The carvings on the rock include pictures of deer, buffalo, and pronghorn antelope. Some glyphs depict riders on horses, while other images depict past events like in a “newspaper.”

The pictures at Newspaper Rock were inscribed into the dark coating on the rock, called desert varnish. Desert varnish is a blackish manganese-iron deposit that gradually forms on exposed sandstone cliff faces owing to the action of rainfall and bacteria. The ancient artists produced the many types of figures and patterns by carefully pecking the coated rock surfaces with sharpened tools to remove the desert varnish and expose the lighter rock beneath. The older figures are themselves becoming darker in color as new varnish slowly develops.

Petroglyph showing mountain sheep near Moab, Utah
Petroglyph showing mountain sheep near MoabPublic Domain

Courthouse Wash Pictographs in Arches National Park

The Courthouse Wash Pictographs are a series of large pictographs on a sheltered sandstone wall in Arches National Park, Utah. The series of images depict a variety of figures measuring up to 5 feet in height.

Courthouse Wash Panel in Arches National Park
Courthouse Wash Panel Photo by MoralMoney via Wikimedia Commons

The Courthouse wash site is located near the junction of Courthouse Wash with the Colorado River, extending over a 300-foot section of cliff base.

Figures were engraved by removal of the rock’s covering of desert varnish. The painted figures follow the Barrier Canyon Style and are believed to be between 1500 and 4000 years old. The incised figures are attributed to the Fremont culture and are dated to about 1000-1200 AD. Figures mounted on horseback were created in historical times since the 16th century introduction of horses and are attributed to Navajo or Ute artists.

The site is accessible from a trail half a mile from US 191 northeast of Moab, Utah. The site was extensively vandalized in 1980, but has been conserved. Please be respectful around these fragile historic treasures.

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