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10 Best Places to See Rock Art

More from Outdoor Living Newsletter March Outdoor Living Newsletter
Holy Ghost Panel, Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park
Holy Ghost Panel, Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park

Rock Art does not have to do with Rock n' Roll but can still rock your world. This term describes a form of communication that is thousands of years old and has to do with using rock surfaces to carve or draw symbols and images. Rock art is found throughout the world; America is not the exception but it is rather prolific in examples, particularly in areas where rocks have not suffered from erosion. Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and California are examples of states with rocky areas that have maintained undamaged rock surfaces for many years. It is in these southwestern states that most rock art examples are found nowadays, giving us the opportunity to go back in time and learn more about the lives of people who left this rock art behind.

Rock art consists of petroglyphs and pictographs. The difference between them is the way they are created. Petroglyphs are carved into the stone, while pictographs are drawn on the rock surface, which serves as a canvas. The content varies from site to site and even within a site, and includes representations and abstract designs. Five categories are recognized: geometric elements (points, lines, arrows), geometric designs (construction and representation of free-form curves, surfaces, or volumes), zoomorphic images (an image that represents an animal figure, a recognizable animal part, or an identifiable animal track), botanical images (images of plants), and anthropomorphic designs (human images). No matter if the creator tried to tell a story or not, these symbols, images, and shapes always tell a story because by interpreting them, or just looking at them, we can learn about how ancient inhabitants of our country lived, thought, or even felt.

Below is a list of the ten best places to see rock art listed alphabetically by state.


1.  Dawa Park Hopi Reservation

Believed to be the second-largest concentration of petroglyphs in the country, Dawa Park on the Hopi Reservation may have up to 15,000 sandstone carvings. Clear depictions of animals, spirals, people and celebrations - some reaching 400 to 500 feet high on the rock - tell a story of ancestral Pueblo Indians who carved the petroglyphs as far back as 2,000 years ago. You need a permit or guide to visit.

Tuba City RV Park is the nearest RV Park.

2.  Painted Rock Petroglyph Site

Contains hundreds of symbolic and artistic petroglyphs, produced centuries ago by prehistoric peoples. There are also inscriptions made by people who passed through during historic times including the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza that founded San Francisco, the Mormon Battalion and the Butterfield Overland Mail.

There is a campground at Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and several RV parks nearby in Gila Bend.

3.  Sears Point

A very rich archeological area including trails, petroglyphs, and rock alignments. Desert Archaic, Patayan, and Hohokam cultures lived in this area between 10,000 BCE and 1450 CE and left behind several thousand petroglyphs. The Sears Point area also has historic petroglyphs from early trappers and "49er" gold rush groups who passed through the area between 1840 and 1860. This location is great for hikers, as there are areas which are not easily accessible. Access is free and some petroglyphs are visible from the parking area.

Campgrounds and RV Parks near Sears Point.

4.  White Tank Mountain Regional Park

This famous landmark holds hundreds of petroglyphs, some dating back 10,000 years, and eleven Hohokam archeological sites. The beautiful one-mile long Waterfall Canyon Trail gives hikers a close up on a great collection of Hohokam petroglyphs and village remains. Additionally, there are different events organized throughout the year, including hike tours at particular dates to combine petroglyph viewing and celestial events, and explain how they can be related. It is advisable to check the coming events board beforehand.

There is a campground in White Tank Mountain Regional Park and there are several RV parks nearby.


5.  The Coso Rock Art District

The China Lake landmark has over 20,000 documented images, more than many other sites combined. Most figures are petroglyphs, famous for their style and use of a representational symbolic system, which is in the process of being decoded. Around half of the petroglyphs represent bighorn sheep, which makes it possible to make clear comparisons. For example, the style clearly evolves over time from simpler images to more detailed ones, and even some depicting anthropomorphic features. The area has other interesting places, such as the Coso hot springs and well-preserved archeological sites, including hunting sites and stone rings. Please note this is located in the U.S. Navy's testing station at China Lake, so you have to be a U.S. citizen to visit.

Campgrounds and RV Parks near Coso Rock Art District.


6.  Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Once a cultural, economic and political hub of the Four Corners from around 850 AD to the 13th Century, the pueblo Indians left behind over 400 sites of rock art. Human figures, handprints, geometric designs, coyotes, birds and other animals can be seen. Check out Una Vida ("one life") a petroglyph gallery on a sandstone panel behind the great house of the same name, Sun Dagger petroglyph consisting of two spiral petroglyphs that act as an astronomical calendar and hike the quarter mile Petroglyph Trail to see images of humans and animals.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park Gallo Campground is the only campground nearby.

7.  Petroglyph National Monument

This protected area has American Indian and Hispanic petroglyphs of prehistoric and historic origin which are accessible from different trails. Particularly, the Rinconada Canyon Sandy Trail is highly recommended because over 500 petroglyphs, some rock alignments, and even former shelters are within sight along the 1.1-mile long trail (2.2 miles for the round-trip).

Campgrounds and RV Parks near Petroglyph National Monument.


8.  Canyon Lands National Park

Human presence in the Canyonlands area has been dated back 10,000 years, when hunter-gatherer Native Americans roamed throughout the area. These nomadic tribes left little proof of their presence as they never stayed long in a single place, but they did create rock art. A particularly rich area for their so-called "Barrier Canyon Style" can be seen in the renowned Horseshoe Canyon. Since later tribes settled the area, such as Puebloans, Fremonts, Utes, Navajos, and Paiutes, Canyon Lands National Park is very rich in rock art and archeological remains from these different cultures. Puebloans handprints are the most common form or rock art found in Canyonlands.

Visitors may camp at the west rim trailhead on public land managed by the BLM. A vault toilet is provided but there is no water. Otherwise the nearest campground is at Goblin Valley State Park.

9.  Sego Canyon

Here you find rock art examples from three different cultures, making it a three-in-one location. There is Archaic rock art (6000 B.C. - 100 B.C.) characterized by giant anthropomorphic representations, rock art from the Fremont Indians (600 A.D. - 1250 A.D.), and also representations from the Ute people (1300 A.D. - 1880 A.D.), easily identified by the presence of the horse and rider figures. This site is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is an excellent location to learn about three time periods.

Campgrounds and RV Parks near Sego Canyon.

10.  Nine-Mile Canyon

This area was settled by the Fremont and it is said to have the largest collection of petroglyphs and pictographs in North America. Since it does not cover a large area, it can be visited in a single day making it an excellent option for a vacation activity. However, it is advisable to have a guide or take a guided tour to find rock art easily. Other activities in the area include biking and fishing, but camping is restricted to Nine Mile Ranch, which is privately owned.

Campgrounds and RV Parks near Nine-Mile Canyon.

If this list is short for you and you want to learn about other areas that may be near to you we can suggest the list of places to see rock art from the National Park Service.

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