Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument

The Rock That Tells a Story There is no way to date petroglyphs. No one knows that they mean — or if someone does, they're not telling. Despite decades of study of rock art panels in Utah and the rest of the West, the fact is we know little more than when we started*. Personally, there is something about rock art panels, or even single carvings, that fascinate me. Something that leaves me both happy and depressed. Maybe it's thinking about some man carving such a beautiful picture of a pronghorn antelope. When I look at things like Newspaper Rock, I am led to believe that no matter how advanced we are, we just aren't making things beautiful like those who came before us did. Like this panel here on the rock in Indian Creek Canyon.

Newspaper Rock, which is one of the largest and best-known petroglyph panels in Utah, is located about 12 miles west of U.S. Highway 191 between Monticello and Moab, on the paved road that leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Deep in a red rock canyon, near a stream lined with towering cottonwoods turned yellow with autumn, the panel contains hundreds of figures and shapes believed to be carved over the past 1,500 to 2,000 years. Across from the sites is a small campground with no water. According to the interpretive sign near the panel, the likely artists were prehistoric people of the Archaic, Basketmaker, Fremont or Pueblo cultures. More recently, Navajo, Ute and Anglos added to the spectacle. In the Navajo language, which I think sounds like Japanese (if you get into the area make sure to tune into AM 660, KTNN, from Window Rock, Ariz., which broadcasts much of its programming in Navajo) the rock is called Tse' Hane, or 'rock that tells a story'.

Petroglyph Tells a story? Maybe, but of what? The pictures could be doodlings, directions, gang graffiti, magic, games, wedding announcements, football scores, tall tales or advertisements. Until someone comes up with a definitive answer, we'll have to go on spending whole afternoons looking at them. Hopefully, an answer to their riddles is far off.

(*Interesting side note: A few years ago up in northern Utah a man claimed to have deciphered hundreds of rock carvings around the West. Put together, he said, they told the story of a vast culture of prehistoric peoples whose lives loosely followed stories in the Book of Mormon. That man died under suspicious circumstances, however, and before he could fully tell his story.)

A close place stay to Newspaper Rock is the Super 8 lodge in Monticello. It has an indoor pool and free breakfast, and Monticello is a pleasant town sitting way up at 7,000 feet.

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