Out of Red Rock Country and onward – Richfield, Utah

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Blanket Design

Here’s a high five to the mighty five of Utah: Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks!

And wow, did we ever have a grand ten weeks experiencing all of them, each with their own unique and majestic beauty.  Although we were “seeing red” in the rocks all that time, we were left wonderstruck and longing for more.  We strongly recommend that anyone coming into the area visit as many of these parks as possible.  Click here to review my posts about them and our other stops in this beautiful state.


Richfield, Utah – no red rocks here!

Leaving Bryce Canyon, we exited the land of red rocks and headed toward greener pastures and several snow-capped mountains.  Our next stop at Richfield, Utah allowed us to meet up with John and Pam, who were already set up at the KOA (Steve’s review here). Unbelievably, the Nimble Hiker had already planned a hike for the four of us at Fremont Indian State Park, about 20 miles from the campground.

Stopping at the museum, we learned about the Fremont people and how the largest known Fremont Indian Village at Five Finger Ridge was discovered during construction of Interstate 70.  Destroying many sites, bulldozers ran right through the heart of the village and uncovered over 100 dwellings and granaries.  It’s the greatest known concentration of Fremont dwellings in the world, and Fremont Indian State Park was established in an effort to preserve what remains.

Sego Lily

At the museum, a basket made of twisted cordage with two bulbs of Sego Lily, considered a delicacy

Interstate 70

What is left of Five Finger Ridge

The natives who lived in this area left an amazing concentration of their distinct rock art on the cliff walls.  We followed several trails that led us to them, but we all thought the Rim Trail hike looked interesting and challenging, and we wanted to check it out.

Permission from the park rangers was required for that hike. and although they granted us permission we arrived to discover it was a very hazardous climb and we decided to view the hundreds of petroglyphs from a distance through binoculars and zoom lenses.  No sense in risking injury just to get close to another bunch of petroglyphs!


Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock on the Rim Trail, with 1000+ images


A Fremont-style anthropomorph has all of the typical features, but is wearing what looks to be a skirt. This is a large figure, perhaps the largest in the park


Historical panel created by a local Native American after a journey to the east

We continued our journey by criss-crossing several trails that lead us to many rock art panels, some visible from the frontage road and others requiring some hiking.  The park rangers lent us guides that explained the various petroglyphs we were viewing along the way.

Looks like Pam is holding my hand – maybe she should be!

A serious discussion about a flower

A serious discussion about a flower

The colorful wildflowers made the girls slow down for pictures:


The Fremont Indians left stories carved or painted on the canyon walls – tales of the hunt, shaman’s visions and initiation rites.  These petroglyphs and pictographs represent a graphic history that we don’t understand to this day.

Arch of Arts

Arch of Arts – we could’ve spent hours viewing the 61 rock art panels on these walls

Arch Art

We climbed here for close-ups of the art.  That’s I-70 in the background

Arch Art

This guy was smarter, monitoring the activity from a distance

Blanket Design

A nice blanket-patterned pictograph


Migration panel

Geometric Designs

Geometric designs

The  written guides provided an interpretation of the panels by modern-day tribal members, but even they can provide only a guess of what the Fremont people were trying to convey way back then.

John and Pam

Till we meet again!

John and Pam moved on the following morning, and we stayed behind to just relax and kick back for a few days.

Next up:  Getting caught up at Utah Lake State Park


A Glimpse of Past Inhabitants – Bluff, UT

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Wolfman Petroglyph

Excitement was in the air as we left Page, Arizona, heading toward our next destination at Bluff, Utah.  Happily, our route along Hwy 163 took us through one of our bucket list “must-see” places, Monument Valley.  It’s striking landscape is the most photographed area lying entirely within Navajo Indian Reservation territory along the Utah/Arizona border.

Monument Valley

Excitement abounds as we enter Monument Valley

The Navajo name for the area is Tse Bii’ Ndzisgaii, meaning “valley of the rocks.”  The sandstone buttes and mesas have been used as a backdrop for more than a dozen movies (including Forest Gump), and driving amongst them brought home the beauty of that backdrop for us.

Monument Valley

The small town of Bluff (population 258 as of 2015) was our base camp for exploring ancient ruins and rock art.  It’s in the center of the Four Corners region where ruins of Anasazi Bluff, Utahcommunities have been found not only in Utah but also in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  The region is known as the Utah section of the Trail of Ancients, where Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) occupied from approximately A.D. 1 to A.D. 1300.  Some of the remarkable remaining remnants left behind have easy access, but most require a drive and a hike, while still others exist in inaccessible back country areas.

Sand Island Petroglyphs

The easiest site to find here was the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, located within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sand Island Recreation Area just 3 miles south of Bluff.  The petroglyph panel stretches more than a hundred yards and features hundreds of  petroglyphs of every style.

Sand Island Petroglyps

The panel is registered in the National Register of Historic Places

Sand Island Petroglyphs

This small section alone has numerous types of petroglyphs, most notably big horn sheep

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel

Amy and May certainly weren’t ancient inhabitants.  Vandals force ugly fences to be installed around these precious works

Wolfman Panel

The famous Wolfman Panel is about four miles west of Bluff along Butler Wash Road and just a mile from Utah 163.  It’s a large, crisp and artistic group of etchings on the cliffs bordering the east side of Butler Wash.  The panel has designs that include a mask, shields, human figures and the wolfman himself.  Unfortunately, some of the artwork had been damaged by one or more morons shooting the rock with guns.

Wolfman Petroglyph

Wolfman Petroglyph

This is said to be a Basketmaker II style of petroglyph

Monarch Cave Ruins

Getting to these ruins required a 7-mile drive down Butler Wash Road (a dirt road in good condition), then a 1-mile hike toward a large alcove surrounded by colorfully-streaked cliffs above a permanent pour-over pool.  The site has one main ruin, several lesser structures and many petroglyphs colored yellow, green and white, in addition to the usual red.  The main area had been closed off as it has been become unstable and dangerous.

Monarch Cave Ruins

Living up high on a cliff

Monarch Cave Ruins

Indentations on rocks caused by grinding grain, showing evidence of life

Images on the rock that are painted on the surface with natural materials are called pictographs.

Monarch Cave Ruin

Living this high up a cliff guarantees a great view and safety from enemies

Grand Gulch Ruins

Once again our favorite hiking tipster Pam came through, pointing us to one of the ruins she and John (Oh The Places They Go) hiked called Junction Ruin.  The trailhead is located west of Hwy 261 and south of Natural Bridges National Monument.  The area is called Grand Gulch Primitive Area, and it’s a sprawling canyon system is home to a rich collection of American Indian rock art.  Access requires a permit at Kane Gulch Ranger Station for day use and/or backpacking.

Kane gulch trail

Initially our goal was to visit Junction Ruin as John and Pam had (click here for the details of their hike).  It’s a large cliff dwelling built on three levels, and a fascinating complex consisting of storage units, habitation rooms, kivas and defensive structures.

Junction ruin, Cedar Mesa

Peering into a small storage room

After perusing those ruins we met a group of backpackers who urged us to continue another 0.8 miles to see Turkey Pen Ruin.  Onward we went to discover that these ruins encompassed a number of structures, along with some pictographs.  Just like Junction Ruin, a metal box at the site contained descriptions of the scene and the structures it held.

Turkey Pen Ruin

The actual Turkey Pen is a jacal structure near the west end of the habitation area, and although its purpose is unknown, it didn’t look like it was used to hold turkeys.

Turkey Pen Ruin

We didn’t intend to hike 9.2 miles, but seeing both ruins made it more rewarding despite the uphill climb on our way out.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Tucked away in White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument shows off three natural stone bridges.  The park ranger recommended we follow an 8.6-mile trail that connected all of them in a long loop hike.  This trek really showed up-close how the power of water cut two deep canyons and formed three massive sandstone bridges.

Sipapu Bridge

The world’s second highest natural bridge – Sipapu Natural Bridge

Descending into the canyon, we passed and crossed under the “Sipapu” “Kachina,” and “Owachomo” bridges.  They were named after Native Americans who once lived in the area.  Along the way we saw rock art panels and checked out Horsecollar Ruin.

Horse collar Ruin

This well-preserved ruin’s name came from the doorways of two granaries resembling horse collars


We wondered what these drawings meant

We discovered the rock art panel when eagle-eyed Steve spied it high up on a wall not easily visible from the trail.  It was near the end of our hike, which due to our extra wanderings had tallied up 11.6 miles on the GPS.  It was a long and satisfying hike!

House on Fire Ruin

Our final stop that day was the House on Fire ruin.  Consisting of about five rooms, its name comes from the patterns in the alcove’s red and white sandstone ceiling that look like flames shooting from the roof of the structures.

The best time to capture this effect is midday when the light from the opposite canyon bounces across to the ruin.  Unfortunately it was 5:30pm by the time we arrived after our all-day “Bridges” hike, so conditions for my pictures were not ideal.  This trek added another 1.5 miles to our total for the day, and we were exhausted but happy to see it while in the area.

House on Fire Ruin

Visiting ancient ruins gives us a glimpse into parts of Anasazi life, and the remnants tell tales of their daily toils.  Images and art chiseled/painted on rock walls are impossible to decipher, but they must have had special meaning to the people who created them and the descendants who followed.  Those first residents left us fascinating food for thought, and we can only imagine what their lives must have been like way back then.


Next up:  Let’s take a drive!

A journey back in time – Seminole Canyon SP, Comstock, TX

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What we saw while driving northwest along US-90 towards Seminole Canyon State Historical Park was flat wilderness – all the way to the horizon in every direction.  I’ve heard a lot about boring drives through Texas, and I believe this is one of those parts of the state that people refer to. Continue reading