Tribal Culture - Modern and Ancient

The moon used to be a man who had a face. The moon rolled all over where all the birds and animals were and killed lots of them. It used to be fire, all hot. All the animals were killed except Rabbit. He said, "Hide some place quickly, the moon will catch you and burn you up." He hid under the rabbit brush and nowadays rabbits hide under that brush. Rabbit got brown marks on his back where he was scorched by the moon.
--Ute story teller, Pearl Perika, translated by Stella Rose

Utah's Indian Tribes represent the state's original inhabitants. Since those ancient days, the area that is now "Utah" has become a web of sacred places, dwelling sites, and intriguing rock art messages. Today's Utah has five major tribes with strong cultural legacies which continue to flourish:

  • Paiute
  • Goshute
  • Shoshoni

Utah's tribes actively live their ancient cutlures and gather together to celebrate. Visitors are often invited to view these tribal gatherings. A free exhibit of traditional beadwork, baskets, carvings and other art objects made by contemporary American Indian craftspeople is on display at the Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts.

Rock Art & Ruins - Preserved Remnants of Ancient Cultures

Native American rock art was created by two methods. Petroglyphs were pecked or incised into stone walls or boulders. Pictographs were painted on stone, and even after thousands of years, can be quite colorful.

The exact meanings of pictographs and petroglyphs are not known. Rock art "themes" seem to vary widely, from depictions of successful hunts, to mythic figures considered to represent deities, or ceremonial practices. There are also scenes from domestic life, common and fantastic animals, as well as many graphic symbols. Rock art is often classified and assigned to time frames and cultures based on elements of artistic style.

Habitation sites, or the places where ancient cultures made their homes, can be obvious - like granaries preserved because of their weather-proof positions under cliffs - or obscure,as in a pattern of grouped stones recognizable as a dwelling foundation only by those with archaeological training. Across southern Utah there are many sites where stone dwellings and places of worship have been stabilized, preserved, and interpreted for modern visitors.

The locations included here represent merely a cross-section of accessible sites marked by ancient Puebloan Cultures. See the Utah Museums page to find several excellent collections and interpretive opportunities in museums statewide. Local visitor information centers are the best places to get information on any specific area of the state. Please remember, all Native American relics are protected by federal law and touching or taking them is prohibited.

Northern Utah

  • Rock art created by members of the Fremont Culture is found on the islands of the Great Salt Lake, and in some areas of northwestern Utah's deserts.

Central Utah

  • Fremont Indian State Park and Museum at the Hwy 89/I-70 junction, 24 miles southwest of Richfield and 15 miles east of I-15, has a large collection of Fremont Indian artifacts from nearby Five Fingers Hill. Short, maintained trails lead past several impressive panels of rock art figures. An interpretive center focuses on the evolution of Fremont Indian Cultures from 500 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

Eastern Utah

  • Range Creek Canyon shelters pristine Fremont Indian rock art and ruins, in the rugged Book Cliffs. The area was purchased by the federal government in 2004 and opened to limited public visitation. At that time it was called one of the most significant archaeological finds in the US in the last 50 years. Comparatively little is known about the Fremont people and archaeologists are actively studying these sites to piece together the mystery of their culture.
  • Dinosaur National Monument has many rock art sites; some obvious, and some requiring maps and a willingness to hike.
  • Dry Fork Canyon, on the lower west portion of the Red Cloud Loop north of Vernal, has some of America's most impressive petroglyph panels.
  • Nine Mile Canyon, a BLM National Scenic Backway, should not be missed, but take the time to pick up a copy of the detailed self-guided tour brochure available in Price. About 30 miles south of Hwy 40 on a gravel road, the canyon walls are covered with petroglyphs and pictographs, if you know where to look.
  • Buckhorn Draw near Cedar Mountain in the San Rafael Swell, about 20 miles east of Castle Dale on gravel roads, and Temple Wash north of Goblin Valley State Park, offer scattered, but intriguing petroglyphs.

Southwestern Utah

  • The ancient village preserved at Anasazi State Park and Museum in Boulder, was one of the largest Anasazi communities west of the Colorado River. The village remains largely unexcavated, but many artifacts have been uncovered and are on display in the museum. There is a life-size, six-room replica of an Anasazi dwelling at the park, giving visitors an idea of what life was like here nearly a thousand years ago.
  • BLM-administered Parowan Gap, 10 miles northwest of Parowan, and Johnson Canyon, 9 miles east of Kanab, have many petroglyph sites. Pictographs may be seen at Sand Springs, 20 miles northwest of Kanab.

Southeastern Utah

  • Wolf Ranch in Arches National Park is one of the finest examples of rock art in the southwest.
  • Newspaper Rock, is a panel of hundreds of figures and designs incised on a southwest-facing cliff. The stone "bulletin board" has over 350 distinct petroglyphs carved by the ancients more than 800 years ago. Figures riding horses and shooting arrows are considered a portrayal of the Ute Indians who obtained horses in the 1600s. Other images are attributed to the Ute culture in the 19th century. This BLM-administered site is on state route 211 accessible from US 191.
  • Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum in Blanding interprets the remains of an ancient Puebloan village with its ceremonial kivas which were built between 700 and 1220 A.D. The park site is a strong testament to the Indian civilization that once flourished in southeastern Utah. The ruin consists of six distinct habitation and ceremonial complexes. The museum houses a collection of artifacts and pottery, and is the regional archaeological repository for southeastern Utah.
  • Also in Blanding, The Nations of the Four Corners Cultural Center honors the Ute, Navajo, Hispanic and Anglo cultures that co-exist in this part of the state.
  • Many remnants of the Pueblo culture between 300 A.D. and 1300 A.D. may be seen on the Trail of the Ancients, a 100-mile loop route southwest of Blanding.
  • South of the junction of state routes 261 and 95 is the Grand Gulch Primitive Area containing hundreds of cliff dwellings. The BLM requires visitors to obtain a permit before entering this rugged area which is accessible only by horseback and hiking trails.
  • Hovenweep National Monument near the Colorado border, presents a series of ancient fortress and tower ruins. This small park affords solitude where the visitor may ponder the past.
  • Five prehistoric rock art panels are near the town of Bluff and are shown on the Bluff walking tour map.
  • In 1959, Monument Valley was set aside as a Navajo Tribal Park. The Park Headquarters and Visitors Center display Navajo archaeology, Navajo arts and crafts and provide information on the area. A self-guided scenic drive leads to overlooks of the park's most famous formations. Further exploration in the Tribal Park requires hiring a Navajo Guide at the visitor center.
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