Petroglyphs are images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, pecking, carving and abrading, usually by prehistoric people. In the Desert Southwest, most petroglyphs have been created on rocks bearing desert varnish.
Desert varnish is created in areas of low precipitation, and is formed from just the right combination of clay, wind, high temperatures and dew. It is a thin surface layer of black or navy coloring, which in appearance resembles the old chalkboards, and provided an excellent place to carve, exposing the lighter rock underneath.
We visited three petroglyphs sites near Moab. The first, Moon Flower Canyon, is behind a protective fence, but that has not prevented the panel of 100 feet by 12 feet high from being highly vandalized over the years. Why is it that folks visiting these sites cannot appreciate the history behind the etchings, a record that once destroyed, can never be regained?
The panel contains many figures, including a large human shape with headdress, bighorn sheep and a number of abstract elements. The site is located on the south bank of the Colorado River at the entrance of a lovely canyon named for the datura (or Moonflowers) growing there. Pictures from Moon Flower Canyon are in the slideshow (link below)
On the north side of the River, we found another site. Historians believe these petroglyphs were created between 600 and 1300 A.D. These carvings include animals, lines of hand-holding men and triangular figures with spears and shields. It is very hard to photograph these sites due to the reflective quality of the desert varnish.
Another interesting bit of history found on this road is the dinosaur tracks. We found several sites around Moab with similar tracks documented. The tracks on this road were up on the side of a hill, and best viewed through binoculars or the zoom lens of a camera.
The third petroglyph panel we found runs from ground level up about 30 feet and is about 90 feet wide. This site caused us a few smiles, especially when we found a figure that very closely resembled Santa and his sled. Santa has really gotten around over the ages, hasn’t he?