Hiking,  U.S.A

Zion’s Secret Petroglyph Canyon


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.”


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.


Finding the petroglyphs


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.


The first tunnel you drive through


View out from the tunnel


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!


Scramble down from the road to the sand bed


Walk under the bridge




And through the canyon


To get to the site


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.


Alan at the bottom of the sand canyon


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….


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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