Friday, August 13, 2010

Dry Fork Canyon Petroglyphs

If you ever find yourself in Vernal Utah, either as a passage home or going to see the dinosaurs, you've got more to see than fossils. And, no, I don't mean the city wide floral arrangement that is their main street.


And they're not all that hidden or hard to find and they don't need ATVs or SUVs to get to them. Just about every motel will have a brochure rack of pamphlets and they all have many about different "day-trips" you can take while staying in Vernal – a great idea!

The one about the petroglyphs in Dry Fork Canyon, Utah, USA [N 40.545761, W 109.637028] immediately caught my eye, as it where, and I coerced my party to stop and see them the next morning on our way home.

Except for the fact that the roads aren't named the same as the map, a consternation that was short-lived, the place isn't all that difficult to find.

Up the canyon there is a well marked turn-off to the McConkie Ranch on which the glyphs reside. Don't let the somewhat tacky appearance of the run-down information shed and antler-lined parking corral put you off, the rock art is well worth the visit.

I have to admit, upon seeing the dilapidated sign "register here" and the overall ambiance, I immediately thought of all the "roadside geysers" that we had begged our parents to stop at as kids, only to find a mud hole fed by a man who turned on the faucet every 30 minutes!

Not so. It's free and the trails have no gates, are signed and pass a State of Utah plaque designating this as a historically registered site.

The trail to the glyphs, is a bit challenging for those at both ends of the age spectrum. Some long-gone scout troop has preceded you and constructed a few hand-holds over the more out-of-camber portions; but, the run/rise will surely stress your respiratory rate.

Once near the cliff walls you begin spotting both petroglyphs and pictographs left by members of the Freemont Indian Culture – an extension of the Basket Maker and early Pueblo cultures which moved northward from the Great Basin and southern Utah over several hundred years.

It's the squared-shoulder appearance of the writings and the coffee-bean applique type necklaces which mark glyphs from this culture dating from 1000 to 1200 A.D.

You can't see anything from a car, you've got to get out and walk, better yet crawl over the sandstone and through the cactus. When traces of blood begin to appear, you'll see something, maybe.”
Edward Abbey
Believe me, this is an area where digital cameras with seemingly unlimited "film" come in handy. If you're at all interested in petroglyphs you can easily shoot 100 photos without breaking a sweat.

And not the least of those will be of the National Geographically acclaimed "Three Kings" or "the Sun Carrier" which are seven to nine foot figures of obvious humanoid "VIPs" of substance.

Around every corner and bend in the trail there are more, some minimally despoiled by "pioneer types" who didn't know any better, some by "tree-hugging" types not above labeling the icons with incomprehensible numbers and letters. At least they are not "Popsicle sticks!"

Being in the northeast corner of Utah, and even though for the most part it masquerades as desert, Vernal does receive some snow; but, still, the mid-summer is quite hot for such a scramble as this.

And a very welcome site indeed at the finish is that "information shack" (which we snubbed our noses at for its tackyness when we first arrived) where there might be shade – and to our overwhelming surprise, we find that it contains an "honor" refrigerator with soda and water, coffee-table photo books, maps, brochures and a chained coin-box.

If for no other reason than to help them keep the refrigerator going… this one deserves a handful of pocket coins. Better still, empty your pockets of all that heavy change BEFORE you pack it all the way up the cliffs and back!


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