A Canyon of Mystery and Magic… Sego Canyon Rock Art

These larger-than-life pictographs at Sego Canyon in Utah are among the strangest I have ever seen. Now add in the fact that they are several thousand years old. And what’s with the pictograph on the right? Also, check out this guy’s spiky hairdo.

 

Zipping along Interstate 70 in Utah, you might very well decide to take a detour and visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It is a decision you will never regret. The odds are, however, that you will miss the small road that extends north of the Arches turnoff heading toward the town of Thompson Springs. In so doing so, you will miss the opportunity to visit one of the most magical and mysterious rock art sites in the Western United States: Sego Canyon.

Our van sits in Sego Canon as Peggy and I wander around looking for rock art. Most of it is located on the two rock faces below. Peggy watches as I work my way up closer to the petroglyphs.

Most of the rock art at Sego Canyon is found on the two faces of this large rock.

This is another rock face that Peggy and I checked for petroglyphs in Sego Canyon. We didn’t find any rock art but the rock itself was quite unusual. I could see why Native Americans might have considered the area sacred.

Three different historical periods are represented in the rock art here dating back over a period of 6,000 years. The most fascinating to me are the pictographs left behind during the Archaic period by nomads who roamed the area from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago. The large, anthropomorphic forms that are painted on the rock normally lack eyes, arms and legs but may come with antennae, snakes and earrings. Known as the Barrier Canyon Style, it’s hard not to think of these pictographs as alien, or at least imagine a shaman encountering these creatures on a drug induced journey into an alien world.

Dave Kingsbury, one of my followers from England, and I were discussing cults where people run around with rattlesnakes in their hands. We both agreed that such sport wasn’t for us. This horned pictograph from the Archaic period seems to have a thing for snakes. Possibly he belonged to such a cult. Or possibly he was a very powerful shaman.

Or maybe something else. I see this and I want to say, “Take me to your leader.”

And this.

I find these jellyfish-like pictographs even more mysterious than the anthropomorphs. UFO fans might describe it as a space ship taking off, but hey, maybe it is a jellyfish. Or likely something else.

This shot provides a view of how some of the pictographs fit together on the right side of snake man.

And to the left..

And now, all together.

A final shot from the Archaic period. I found these pictographs a bit ghostly.

The Fremont Culture took over from the Archaic period and lasted from  600 CE to 1200 CE. Unlike the nomadic Archaic peoples, the natives of the Fremont period grew corn, lived in permanent stone buildings, and had a complex social structure. Most of the rock art they left behind is in petroglyph form, pecked into rather than painted on the rock.

The Fremont era had its own strange figures, but these were loaded down with jewelry. I found the hand interesting. I wonder if it is holding Datura seeds. It looks a bit like a foot walking in the circle. And there is a Big Horn sheep. It is rare to find petroglyph sites in the west that don’t include them.

A close up of the two figures with another ghostly one to the right. There is also another hand and another sheep, a fat fellow. The tiny figure on the left looks more like a deer to me.

And finally, we have the more modern Ute Culture that populated the area from 1300 to 1880 CE, when the Utes were forced out of their homes and onto Indian Reservations so pioneers could grab their land. One way to distinguish petroglyphs from this period is the presence of horses, which the Spaniards brought to North America in the Sixteenth Century. In fact, horses are a major tool used in  dating rock art.

This Ute rock art featured what is thought to be a shield. I’d say that the horse is about to become horse meat.  But wait, is that a small man on the back of the horse? Maybe he is the enemy.

Ute Indians seem to hunt buffalo in this scene, which will be my last for Sego Canyon. If you ever find yourself in the area, don’t miss the opportunity to explore this fascinating  site.

Next Post: I am still out backpacking but will try to get a post up on petroglyphs Peggy and I have photographed in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks during my next break between trips.

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27 comments on “A Canyon of Mystery and Magic… Sego Canyon Rock Art

    • The dry climate is an important part of the answer, AC. The petroglyphs, which are pecked into rocks, are easier to understand that the pictographs that are painted. The capacity of the dyes/paints they created to survive is amazing. But again, think of all the artwork that has survived for thousands of years in Egyptian tombs. –Curt

    • There are a number of efforts to protect it, today. And archeologists have certainly been working to document and catalogue the art. This doesn’t stop unscrupulous people from stealing the art or unthinking people from writing their names next to the petroglyphs. –Curt

  1. Wow! Sego Canyon is now on the radar for the next time I update my “Sights listed by State.”
    As near as I can tell, it is on the “short-cut” Alie and I took from Cresent Junction to Randlett and Vernal Utah in 1997 — 100 miles of unpaved mostly un-signed roads over the Tavaputz Plateau before GPS, Google and blogs. i wish we had known it was there.

    • Aren’t those ‘shortcuts’ a kick, Ray. Sego Canyon is probably within 10 miles of Crescent Junction. Sounds like you had quite a trip, back in the old days when we had to depend on maps! 🙂 I use GPS now for its convenience, but always in conjunction with a map… –Curt

  2. It would be so cool if these ancient people were trying to communicate that they’d seen aliens or UFO’s. I can’t make sense of most of the pictographs. I’d fail at deciphering codes, I fear. Especially if they came in picture form.

    • Agree! We’ll never know, of course. Maybe the aliens kept records of their early encounters. (grin) Some of the petroglyphs seem quite easy to interpret, like the guy shooting an arrow at an animal and the animal full of arrows! Others, such as the alien figures, are much more perplexing. –Curt

  3. Now you’ve got me headed to the map of Utah to see this place. We must have been so close since we stayed in Moab to tour Arches and Canyonlands. But we missed Sego Canyon and these petroglyphs. I’m thinking a return trip is in order, since we have many places we’ve discovered from people reading our posts. Thanks for sharing this one with us!

    • Sego Canyon is definitely worth a look if you are in the area! Peggy and I would have never noticed it except we are always on the lookout for anything related to petroglyphs. And you are very welcome, Rusha. –Curt

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