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Zion’s Secret Petroglyph Canyon

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There was a look of consternation on his face as he focused intently on his iPhone screen. I continued to babble off quotes about how amazing Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, Observation Point, and Hidden Canyon were.

“I think we could squeeze the Emerald Pools in after Angel’s Landing,” I announced, but Alan wasn’t really listening.

We were doing our last minute research to figure out what trails to tackle in Zion, since we sort of did minimal planning before heading out to Utah.

“There are petroglyphs in this park,” Alan finally answered. So that’s what he was doing over there on his device, sleuthing and devising a plan for us to discover some Native American cave art.

“There’s nothing written about these petroglyphs in the park information. They must be trying to keep them hidden.” He sounded a bit offended.

The coveted petroglyphs

The next day, we headed over to the ranger station after our Angel’s Landing trek to ask about the rock carvings and the landscape between Zion and Bryce (our next stop).

We approached the ranger and told him our plans to drive towards Bryce and asked what we should see along the way.

“The top of the canyon is my favorite part of the park because so few people go there. You almost have the place to yourselves. Just get out your car and explore the shallow sand-bottom canyons. You can spend days in just one area.”

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Cool. Encouraging, but I already wanted to come back. We only had a few hours of daylight. Crap.

Little did I realize, though, what Alan’s real intent was. He was baiting the ranger.

As we pulled out of the station, making our way towards Bryce, Alan seemed to be fuming.

“I gave him every chance to tell me about the petroglyphs, and he lied!” What? What’s going on here. I recalled the conversation, when Alan asked about the rock art, and the ranger told us about a place right off the road across from the station that was Zion’s hallmark “petroglyph site.” We saw it. It was pretty dinky and covered in graffiti. Sad.

“I asked him if there were any petroglyphs anywhere else, and he said no. That’s a lie!” As it turns out, the park actually marked the site we were seeking, but they do there best to keep it a trade secret, hidden from swathes of tourists.

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Finding the petroglyphs

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I understood their conservation perspective. Seeing the human desecration of the main site, I knew they were just trying to preserve as much as they could. But Alan wasn’t having it. He found a few websites that explained how to access the petroglyphs. He first read about the petroglyph site on Joe’s Guide, but Joe has his own moral dilemmas about disclosing the secret location.

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The first tunnel you drive through

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View out from the tunnel

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We found some good driving directions from a site called Utah Petroglyphs. It seemed easy enough. Drive through two tunnels, and look for a wooden fence on the right where cars might be parked (there were).  After a “short scramble” down to the sand bed, under a bridge and through a valley, you reach the site!

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Scramble down from the road to the sand bed

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Walk under the bridge

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And through the canyon

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To get to the site

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And voila

The site

The rock art is pretty extensive and fascinating- and pretty well preserved, which I’m sure has something to do with the location’s clandestine nature. If I were working for the park service, I’d probably try to get a protective layer of plastic installed to ensure the future integrity of the rock art.

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The carvings extend for at least 400 feet along the rock wall. I’m terrible at distance approximations. I just pulled that number out of my arse. I remember parasailing once, long, long ago. I was told I would be floating above the water’s surface at 400 feet. That has since become my benchmark for everything, I’m not sure why….

The real treasure

As awesome as the petroglyphs were, the real highlight for me was the landscape. Quiet, serene and gentler than the rugged part of the park we’d just left behind, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace here. The sand was soothing, like a beach. The soft, warm hues in the sloping hills sent a relaxing sensation through me. I knew if we ever made it back here, we needed to concentrate more of our time in this area.

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We saw a few people hiking around, but not very many. Alan went off exploring for 30 minutes and came back only wanting more. He found evidence of water, which he deduced to mean that the Native Americans must have settled in the area. He wanted to find some artifacts and more sites! But alas, the clock was our enemy, as the sun dwindled in the sky.

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Alan at the bottom of the sand canyon

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Water pool- meaning settlements nearby?

So we had to continue on to our next adventure- Bryce Canyon.

And randomly, we saw mountain goats on the side of the road….

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I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on keeping such sites in national parks secret for conservation purposes. Do you think that paying visitors have the right to know about these sites? Or do you feel that most people wouldn’t respect the integrity of the sites and might deface or degrade them? I’m a little more conservation-leaning, personally. Plus, it’s more exciting to find a secret site than a popular, crowded attraction. What do you think?

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32 Responses to Zion’s Secret Petroglyph Canyon

  1. Emily McCarroll December 23, 2013 at 7:57 PM #

    Definitely conservation. Your idea about a plastic type covering sounds good to me. Or, perhaps,, having a ranger to guide people? Great article.

    • Lindsay December 29, 2013 at 11:21 AM #

      I agree. I always lean toward conservation, even if that means I’ll never see the site!

  2. Gary Leverett November 10, 2014 at 7:21 PM #

    I live about 20 minutes from the park and have visited this site many times. I’m in favor of the park not publishing the location but disagree with the ranger denying their existence. I believe the ranger your party spoke with acted independently though. If you asked another ranger the response might be different. I’ve seen numerous petroglyph sites defaced by ignorant morons throughout the Southwest. So sad but this is why I’m Ok with the park service not publishing directions to the site. Hopefully, the people who take the time and effort to research the location are also responsible adults who take care to preserve the ancient art for future generations. Also, I encourage you to dedicate a few days to explore the upper (east) side of Zion. There’s a ton to see and do there without the throngs of people you’ll see in the canyon.

    • Lindsay September 30, 2016 at 2:05 PM #

      Thanks for the comment and perspective as a local, Gary! It seems like the unpublished system is working so far. I guess there’s no way to regulate which rangers will say what(?) but I guess it’s not such a bad idea to leave the sleuthing up to the people on the treasure hunt for the petroglyphs. Perhaps people wishing to do harm wouldn’t make the extra effort to research. It could be another level of security. Who knows. I think if I was a ranger, I would try to gauge the intention of the person asking. Although sometimes people can be disingenuous. So… well, the resources are available for those looking! As long as we have freedom of the information sharing on the Internet!

  3. EK November 23, 2014 at 2:10 AM #

    I just stumbled across this post while looking for info on the petroglyphs, and I want to take this moment to say please don’t spend TONS of time going off pathways. There are special layers of microbacteria called ‘desert varnish’ on a lot of those rocks and walking on them kills them off. They take hundreds of years to build up to only be destroyed in an instant, and they are vitally important to the desert’s ecosystem.
    So please, don’t go exploring willy-nilly in a lot of these areas (not referring to the petroglyphs trip, but to the 30-minute exploring time). Thank you!

    • Lindsay September 30, 2016 at 2:01 PM #

      Hi EK. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m always seeing to learn more about our world and share different perspectives, and I think yours (and your knowledge) is a very important one to consider, and probably something that people (like myself, in this instance) don’t realize when exploring back country. Thank you for sharing this information, and I will definitely be more judicious when exploring in the future!

  4. jay June 3, 2015 at 9:02 PM #

    your a MEATHEAD for posting it. Im retired military / Disabled veteran and this WAS one of Zions little known secret spots that we can get to that doesnt require extensive hiking and is not too hard to get to. This is the sorta thing you share with your family or close friends… not the world. Even tho Im sure some other meathead beat you to it. Some things are better left unsaid. That is all.

    JB

    • Lindsay September 30, 2016 at 1:55 PM #

      Hi Jay. Meathead. I always thought that was such a strange insult. I dated a guy once who used to call men he perceived as unintelligent doofuses “meatheads.” There are certain connotations of a dumb jock, no?
      Anyway, here nor there.

      I encourage you to read some of the other comments here. Like the one from Jon, below, who went out of his way to research and find these secret petroglyphs to show his children, who included it as the highlight of their trip. He even brought them to the “public” vandalized ones to show them the difference, and teach them an important life lesson about reverence and respect.

      When he asked the ranger about the secret spot, they admitted that those, like himself, who seek out these precious artifacts and do the work and research to find them are not the ones who will vandalize them.

      The reality is, anyone can find these “secret” artworks if they really want to. That’s how we found them. We did the research, and found a blog similar to mine, with even more detailed information about how to get there. (Mind you, we are talking about personal blogs. Not an article in National Geographic). So yes, other “meatheads” beat me to it. The information is out there, for those who look for it. Those who wish to destroy and vandalize will likely not put in the effort to find them. But if they do, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s my fault or anyone else’s who write about appreciating such fascinating pieces of history. Others will come, discover, share and write. Hopefully they will be people like Jon. Thanks for your opinion, though. And I apologize if my post angered you.

  5. devon fletcher June 16, 2015 at 2:51 PM #

    We have so many sites right here in Dona ana and Luna Counties. Some are well known, some not. Some are practically a stones throw from I-10 and I-25, yet receive little visitation. I’m not in the habit of giving real super specific directions to some of the places I go,but I do like to give the determined person a fighting chance to find some of these spots, Only a few of the sites have obvious deliberate damage and most haven’t changed in the 17 years I’ve lived here( my theory is that folks are just getting lazier and lazier), that doesn’t mean that couldn’t change. I don’t believe theft or vandalizing of a petroglyph site is a crime of opportunity as in- I just read about this place in a book or on the internet, now lets go get some chisels and spray paint.

    • Lindsay February 5, 2016 at 10:48 PM #

      What a refreshing perspective, Devon! And how cool that you have these special “secret” sites at your finger tips (and even cooler that you and other locals don’t exploit them by curating your own petroglyph show on YouTube or something!) Very.Cool. 🙂 And yea, I think I share your theory of pervasive laziness. I, for one, wouldn’t have sought out the “secret petroglyphs” if I wasn’t with such a determined person as you mentioned!

  6. Eug White August 31, 2015 at 2:36 PM #

    Hi Lindsay, just wanted to thank you for sharing information on Petroglyph Canyon in Zion NP. With your article and a little sleuthing on mapquest, I was able to identify where the spot was in advance and we found it easily on the first try. It was a very special visit, and we arrived and left the site with the respect it deserves. Appreciate your help! 🙂

    • Lindsay February 5, 2016 at 9:31 AM #

      That is GREAT Eug!! I’m so glad you found this little treasure, and even more stoked that you respected the site!! Fascinating place, right??

  7. Debbie September 20, 2015 at 10:56 PM #

    the only reason those petroglyphs are still there is they haven’t been overrun by tourists. keeping the site on the dl has protected them. I imagine as others continue to post about this site, the graffiti vandals will want to make their mark. so sad.

    • Lindsay February 5, 2016 at 10:37 PM #

      Debbie, I agree. It’s a double edged sword. On the one hand, it is amazing art, artifact and history that should be studied, revered, celebrated and protected. I don’t know much at all about the budgetary constraints of the park service, or for Zion in particular. But it would be so wonderful if the park service could monitor the condition of the petroglyphs somehow. Maybe they could have a voluntary contribution box to offset the cost of such extra protection. I know I would contribute! Unfortunately, if we were able to find out about the site on the Internet, anyone else looking for it could as well. That’s the reality of the information age we live in. But I understand your frustration and feelings that I am somehow contributing to the knowledge sharing that would provide would-be vandals the coordinates needed to deface this piece of American history. Let’s hope visitors to the site will continue treat it with respect.

  8. Richard Portman October 12, 2015 at 12:18 PM #

    Petroglyph Canyon is a special place. Happy that you enjoyed it. I don’t think “paying visitors” have any special rights to know about any of our good places. Honestly, many of these visitors are a pain in the ass and they end up ruining everything. Local people are under no obligation to share with strangers against their will.
    So, when you come to visit us, please be friendly and nice. Be respectful.
    You could make friends and see a whole world that we don’t tell “paying visitors” about.

    • Lindsay February 5, 2016 at 10:16 PM #

      Thanks for your comment Richard! And I agree with you that there is never an obligation. And I also agree that the best way to experience any new landscape is in a way that is respectful of locals, and that the experience is so much richer when you get to know the people living there – their stories – their culture. 😉

  9. Jc October 31, 2015 at 9:34 PM #

    Thank you for this description. Best to protect the art. The true admirers of these original art forms will find them. Thanks to you we have help. We will respect and admire them. Going to see them tomorrow.

    • Lindsay February 5, 2016 at 10:07 PM #

      Did you enjoy Petroglyph Canyon, JC?

  10. Jeff February 19, 2016 at 5:01 PM #

    Nice….I know this site. We love hiking the other part of Zion. There are many narrow cuts that head east and break open into the untraveled back country. Mountain Lion tracks and goat herds. Beautiful country.

    • Lindsay February 21, 2016 at 10:44 AM #

      It is such beautiful country, Jeff! Have you ever seen a mountain lion?? 😉

  11. ed woolven March 15, 2016 at 1:06 PM #

    My son and I found it 5 years ago. We will be back there this April.
    Would never put it’s location on the net and risk vandals..

  12. ed woolven March 15, 2016 at 2:14 PM #

    We followed cougar tracks in the sand down the dry wash ,under the bridge and up to head of valley. Noticed the ancient markings on way back down

  13. Mark April 21, 2016 at 10:48 AM #

    I had never heard of this spot! I have visited many petroglyph sites around Utah, and this is one of the smaller, less spectacular panels. But given the lovely setting, I would love to go! I don’t really have a problem with the NPS keeping it “secret”. Due to it’s location, it could be spolied if many folks were to visit this spot. Just the parking alone could become a nightmare.

    But there is a debate to be had regarding “preservation for preservation’s sake” vs allowing a resource to be experienced. If a petroglyph is preserved, but no one sees it, is it really there? Why preserve it if it is never enjoyed? Yes, it does endanger resources to have them visited more, and many ancient sites have been damaged… but especially in National Parks, where a mechanism to preserve and protect them exisits, allowing and encouraging limited, careful visitation seems reasonable, and could actually educate many people who haven’t seen other petroglyphs. Imagine if Michelangelo’s David, or the Mona Lisa was locked away in storage for preservation, and all the public was allowed to see were photos.

    Now, while not encouraging visitation, the park service does allow access to this area, which it could easily limit further, by removing parking. Similarly, access to many slot canyons (ie, the Subway) is limited by permit system. The BLM limits access to The Wave, just east of Zion NP, by permit as well. Frustrating for me, but it will make it special when I eventually get there (I hope).

    Oh, and by the way, those “mountain goats” are not goats, but Bighorn sheep. You are very lucky to see them. In years of visiting many remote spots around my adopted home state of Utah, I have only seen 1 or 2 from a long distance.

    • Lindsay April 26, 2016 at 11:35 AM #

      I appreciate, and tend to agree with, your perspective, Mark. From my understanding, that is the basic tenement of – and one of the major reasons for- the founding of the US National Park System. To help preserve while also allowing controlled use of (and enjoyment of) these amazing natural resources. Because we are allowed to visit, and they are protected, we can marvel at the natural beauty, revere it, and therefor rally further behind their preservation. I see it as a positive cycle.
      I love your comparison to David and Mona Lisa. That’s a great analogy!
      And cool about the Bighorn sheep! Thanks for clarifying, and I had no idea that they were a rare siting!!

  14. Tyler May 16, 2016 at 8:37 PM #

    I am glad it’s not on the park map, but I don’t have a problem with vague beta being posted on the net. I believe if someone is really intent on finding it, they’re looking for it to marvel and respect, not to vandalize it.

    • Lindsay July 4, 2016 at 1:25 PM #

      I totally agree with you, Tyler. Well said!

  15. Ranger September 4, 2016 at 11:41 PM #

    There are petroglyphs right at the South entrance as well that they no longer tell anyone about. Wanna know why? People vandalized them. This is why the NPS keeps secrets- the general public doesn’t respect the resource. If someone is willing to work hard to find the site, then they probably will respect it.

    • Lindsay September 15, 2016 at 11:35 PM #

      I agree with you there. People seeking out the “secret” petroglyphs are likely admirers as opposed to marauders.

  16. Jeff September 13, 2016 at 9:50 PM #

    Found the site yesterday. It was an amazing experience for our children. We could see the fascination in their eyes. Thank you for making us do our homework to find this place. We agree with Tyler and we were able to teach our children to respect and revere such places.

    On a side note, I was intrigued that the majority of these markings are remarkably similar to the ones explained in Thunderbolts of the Gods, Symbols of an Alien Sky, etc. from the Thunderbolts Project.

    • Lindsay September 15, 2016 at 11:43 PM #

      Hey Jeff- that’s so great that your family got to experience a sacred treasure hunt! I never thought about bringing kids (since I went before having mine), but thinking back now on the experience, I know it’s something my daughter would find fascinating as well!

  17. Jon September 19, 2016 at 12:06 PM #

    Thanks for the description. As someone with a background in Archaeology, I found this to be a “must do” when I went to Zion a few weeks ago. Between your writings and other digging, I found the site rather easily, and found myself alone (with my wife and two kids in tow) and was amazed. Even my boys, who are rarely moved by anything, found this to be one of the highlights of our trip. After we visited, I went into the main visitor’s center, and asked one of the rangers about the “Hidden Petroglyph Canyon.” He pretended to not know what I was talking about, and when I revealed I’d already been there and gave a detailed description of where it was, he finally opened up to me. He basically said, “it’s not the people like you that concern us, as you were willing to do the work necessary to find them.” That’s when he gave me directions to the graffiti-laden petroglyphs that are in plain sight. We went and visited those as a comparison, and I was once again reminded about how many people are scum. Thanks again for the nudge! It was an amazing stop! Thanks again!

    • Lindsay September 30, 2016 at 1:38 PM #

      Hey Jon! I’m so glad you and your family found these hidden treasures and were able to appreciate them. I love that your boys enjoyed them too! I hope to bring my daughter out there one day, when she’s a little older.
      It is so unfortunate that there are people out there who have so little respect for life or life’s creations. These are likely people who lack self-respect as well. The best thing we can do, as parents, is to instill loving values in our children. I love that you took your boys to the vandalized “public” petroglyphs for a side-by-side comparison. A good life-lesson was learned, I’m sure! 😉

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