When in Glacier National Park over the summer, I noticed an advertisement from the early part of last century, encouraging people to “see America first” before vacationing in Europe. Trying to save money and not miss work, this has become something of a theme in my travels the last few months. It’s amazing, however, just how much interesting stuff there is to do just in and around Utah itself. National and state parks, national monuments, recreation areas, national forests, and hikes just minutes away from SLC provide almost endless opportunities to get out and explore.
Over the long weekend last week, the lady and I went down to Horseshoe Canyon Unit, which is a detached portion of Canyonlands National Park. Horseshoe Canyon is about two hours south of Green River (on SR 24, just .5mi south of the Goblin Valley turnoff, take the dirt road going east for 30 mi) and contains some of the most significant rock art in all of North America. The canyon itself is beautiful, deep, and remote. It’s a ~7mi round trip hike to see the 4 major panels of pictographs (which are painted, whereas petroglyphs are etched) which takes around 5-6 hours to complete at a pace suitable for rock art contemplations. The canyon panels contain anothropomorphic figures (often in a tapering rectangle shape with tiny arms and legs) with haunting eyes and boxy heads, scenes of animals (including big horn sheep, deer, and sheep being herded by a dog), and various flourishes (such as a figure with angels wings, intricate decorative features, and one figure that appears to be dancing) that denote some sort of associated religious activity (or significance) in the panels.
Interestingly, the panels do not appear to be from familiar Native American tribes of the southwest (such as the Fremont or Anasazi), but were made earlier by groups called the Archaic people. Since the majority of the panels lack bow and arrow, which apparently were brought to the Canyonlands region around 2-400AD (see these papers here), researchers are quite certain the figures are at least 1500 years old, with some estimates putting them at up to 8000 years old. There is one scene depicting a figure hunting with bow and arrow, which demonstrates that various distinct native groups added to the panels.
The towering shapes of the canyon and the expanse of time evident from the remarkable pictographs left one feeling very very small. For some reason I thought of one of Brad Pitt’s line in Fight Club: “you are not special.” I also thought of this quote made popular by President David O. McKay: “Whate'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.” My takeaway message from the canyon? Perhaps.