Nowhere else can such a wide variety of Native American petroglyphs be experienced up close and personal than in Dry Fork Canyon, Utah. Located just ten scenic miles northwest of the city of Vernal, the area is known as Dinosaurland. Rather than the roar of a T-rex, however, you’re more likely to hear the echo of a bellowing cow while driving through the dusty canyon dotted with sagebrush and cedar trees.
The amazing glyphs can be found at the Sadie McConkie Ranch. Although the land is privately owned, the family feels strongly about sharing these images with the world and allows public access at no charge ($2.00 donation requested for parking). Hundreds of ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock drawings) can be easily viewed along three miles of hiking trails (expect some steep and rocky sections). Strange illustrations of human figures, animals, and odd geometric shapes will keep you guessing about their original meanings. Some carved figures are nine feet tall and appear high on the surrounding 200-foot Navajo Formation sandstone cliffs. Others are much smaller and within arm’s reach. Despite exposure to hundreds of years of weather, the etchings are very well preserved and some appear almost freshly chiseled. Prehistoric Fremont Indians flourished in this area from about 1 – 1200 A.D. and left behind these strange looking “rock records” of things that were important in their culture.
These Native American glyphs are also world-renown. National Geographic, Smithsonian and other magazines have featured the mysterious depictions, scientists and archeologists have extensively studied them for many years, and while many theories exist as to their original significance and purpose, no one really knows for sure. Some believe the images are important battle records or calendars, others dismiss them as just prehistoric graffiti. To Native Americans, these petroglyphs are not decorative art; this is a sacred site and should be solemnly respected. We may never know the meaning of the glyphs with any certainty, but everyone definitely agrees that such a large collection of 800-year-old images in a one small area is rare indeed.
Although no glass walls or museum guards separate visitors from the sandstone cliffs bearing the awe-inspiring glyphs, resist the urge to touch. But do take your camera! Getting up close and personal with ancient Indian petroglyphs in their natural surroundings is pretty memorable—far better than a static museum display—and an experience you’ll want to remember and share with others back home.
Driving Directions to Dry Fork Canyon:
From Main Street (Highway 191 and 40) in Vernal (set your odometer to zero): Drive north on 500 West to 500N (Highway 121). Drive west to the town of Maeser (2.5 miles). Turn north onto Dry Fork Canyon Road (3500 West)(3.5 miles). At 6.8 miles you will pass by the “Remember the Maine” Park, with an American flag flying high above on the top of a sandstone cliff. Continue past. At 10.0 miles you will see a sign pointing toward the Native American Petroglyphs. Turn right onto the dirt road and follow it to the Sadie McConkie Ranch. Follow directions to the parking area.
For more info on what to see and do while in the area:
Vernal Area Chamber of Commerce • 134 West Main • Vernal, UT 84078 • Phone: 435-789-1352 • http://www.dinoland.com
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com