Newspaper Rock: 2000 Years of Indian Rock Art… All the News that’s Fit to Peck

Newspaper Rock is filled with Indian rock-art that has been created over a period of 2000 years. This is my version of the headlines.

Sometime around when the historic Jesus was pounding the pavement of Jerusalem seeking recruits, Native Americans began pecking away at Newspaper Rock, creating petroglyphs. What they were trying to say is still something of a question mark. Guesses range from the mundane to the mysterious.

For example, was the guy shooting the buck in the rear a mystical symbol to give the hunter luck, or was it a recording of the event. “Shot big buck. Everyone is invited over for venison stew.”

Some images appear quite clear in intent. This Native American in sitting on a horse and using his bow and arrow to shoot a big buck. Hollywood would call it an action shot.

Like modern graffiti, some rock-art was likely meant to say, “I was here” or “This is the territory of clan such and such…” a no trespassing and no hunting sign. Enter at your own risk.

One interesting question is whether there was any purposeful art in rock-art? Did the creator peck away for the sheer joy of pecking away and creating a masterpiece?

In Navajo the rock is called Tse’ Hane or “rock that tells story.”

We can’t be sure when the individual petroglyphs were made. As I’ve noted before, Indian rock-art is very hard to date. The relative thickness of the rock varnish, the use of bow and arrows, the availability of horses, and the petroglyphs’ resemblance to other rock-art being created in the same era are all used as clues.

The National Historic Marker at the site notes that Archaic, Basket Maker, Fremont, Pueblo and Navajo cultures added their stories to the rock. In more modern times, pioneers even became involved.

Unfortunately, the tradition continues today. All too often people can’t resist adding their own names, marring and destroying the original petroglyphs at various sites. Think of spray-painting your name on the stained glass windows of the Cathedral Notre-Dame in Paris for comparison.

What’s fascinating about Newspaper Rock is the sheer number of petroglyphs included and the time frame over which they were created. I am also impressed with the variety of animals represented. For example, I can’t recall seeing flying squirrels or rabbit tracks in other rock-art sites Peggy and I have visited.

Newspaper Rock is located on Utah’s highway 211 which serves as the south entrance to Canyonlands National Park and is south of Moab. The following photos are a few examples of what you can expect to see. I take total responsibility for the interpretations.

A flying squirrel sails across the sky at Newspaper Rock.

Big foot, bear foot, bird foot and a screaming ladder.

What little kids expect to find hiding under their bed at night.

A bow-legged trick rider?

A bow-legged trick rider? Yeehaw!

This represents the richness of wildlife found on Newspaper Rock. I see deer, a buffalo, big horn sheep, a bear and a lizard. I don’t have a clue what the long creature on the left with the strange legs is. Any guesses?

I’ve included this photo to illustrate how crowded the petroglyphs are on Newspaper Rock. Note the rabbit tracks working their way upward on the upper-right center.

Buffaloed?

Bear with me. (grin)

A picture of the complete Newspaper Rock site. The fence has been added to discourage people from defacing the petroglyphs.

My favorite photo. I like the contrast between the orange sandstone and dark rock varnish.

11 comments on “Newspaper Rock: 2000 Years of Indian Rock Art… All the News that’s Fit to Peck

    • Most Indian rock art that Peggy and I have seen includes recent additions of people chipping in their own names. The temptation is as old as man… “I was here.” While the results are the same, I don’t think the intent is malicious destruction… just the unthinking need for recognition. Education and protection seem to be the answers.

      • Ah, that’s an interesting observation… But you’re right. (Further?) Education and protection are absolutely necessary. This art has been here far too long to destroy. Make note of your presence elsewhere.

  1. I think it’s important to try and see it from the ancient native american’s viewpoint – and that is what they would have worn and their culture at the time (which was probably not far removed from what the elders of the particular tribe or tribes would remember and speak about now.) I’m not N.A. myself but know many (mostly Lakota, it has to be said and each tribe has their own beliefs, traditions, language and ways). But for instance, the figure with the ‘funny legs’ looks like he’s has fringed leggings. (Do a Google image search for “Native American Leggings” and you’ll see many).

    What looks like a big paw print might be a drum or a shield.

    The flying squirrel could be non-animal too.

    • Wow!!!! We hope to head west this winter, now you have given us one more resaon and a great must see place. My wife loves petroglyphs. In Spain, many years ago, she made me drive well off our route to hunt for a town on the map that had the icon for petroglyphs on it. Found your blog due to your post in Airforums about digital television app. Good job on the blog, excellent pictures.Wayne

  2. Absolutely WONDERFUL coverage on Newspaper Rock Curt. Your images on both a large scale and with those great macro/close-ups really convey so much of the detail, complexity and stunning beauty of this place. It’s a breathtaking location and like many other rock art sites, I have often stood there lost in thoughts about the ancestors who created the images, their vision, skill, and the immense time it took. And, like so many other sites you and I have both seen, I bow my head in sadness at the vandalism it has suffered over the years. Thank you for this terrific posting. I regret I hadn’t discovered your blog years ago and am thrilled to have it in my “blogs to read all the way through” list. ~ Rick

    • Thanks Rick. Much appreciated. As noted, I am a fan:) And just think of the time span that Newspaper Rock represents, what… well over a thousand years. As for the people who deface such treasures… sadness captures it. –Curt

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