The Sands of Time: Ancient Rock Art in Utah

Dan Kay
7 min readNov 18, 2023

I’ve just emerged from a seasonal sabbatical in the desert. As usual, we did a lot of rock climbing. The climbing out there is always good — but we won’t linger on that here.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the deserts of the American southwest is the cultural heritage. Artifacts and rock art from a number of Native American cultures are visible here. These things aren’t in a museum or on a heavily-trafficked tourist trail: for the most part, they’re just sitting in the desert, scratched on the side of soft sandstone walls or sitting deep within remote canyons.

There is a special feeling I get when I walk up to these sites. I am not a religious person, but from the first time I saw ancient petroglyphs scrawled on a wall, I felt a spiritual presence. There is no other word for it, and it’s a feeling I still get at many of these sites.

A variety of pictographs on a darkly varnished sandstone wall. This panel is typical of rock art found across the region, and includes many common motifs, including handprints, animal figures, snake-like squiggles, human figures, and the humpbacked figure of Kokopelli.

Andrew Gulliford, in his book “Bears Ears: Landscape of Refuge and Resistance”, writes:

“In Navajo belief, a dead person’s spirit may continue to reside where that person had lived and died. Their chindi or spirit may be lonely and seek to haunt or terrorize visitors.”

—“Bears Ears: Landscape of Refuge



Dan Kay

Always adventurous. Occasionally political. I write creative stories about life, love, climbing and travel.