Peekaboo and Rock Art Too; Seeking Rock Art in Needles District of Canyonlands

Early in our stay in Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, we hiked toward the Peekaboo rock art panel, a ten mile round trip hike. I waited for Claire about half-way to rest my knee, and to give me ample time to concentrate on a unique slickrock saddle between Lost Canyon and a tributary of Salt Creek. She found the major rock art panel, a class one site, but was unable to see the class two site we’d heard was nearby. The Antiquities Act requires that rock art sites be classified between Class One and Class Four, ranging from open sites like Newspaper Rock to sites identified only to approved professionals. We’ve seen a number of Class Two’s, maybe a Class Three, though we wouldn’t know for sure since agencies will only confirm these if asked directly, and but will never give directions.

Naturally she had to go back and try to find the illusive panel. By this time I’d borrowed a hiking pole and had a couple of longish hikes behind me, and I decided to go, this time using the Salt Creek jeep road. Mistake. It had been three weeks or more since rain and the sand was deep, making the less-than-four miles to Peekaboo seem like five or six.

We went straight to the panel and I was blown away. All pictographs (paint on rock) are special, but this one is unique. The white pigment leaps out from the red sandstone in the reflected light of the overhang, and the string of dots (passing of the sun?) is something we haven’t seen before, though admittedly we are novices in the extreme in this rock art appreciation hobby. The panel is a combination of art by both archaic hunter-gatherers and the ancestral Puebloans.

The hand print outlined by blown pigment is common all over the West, and seems to me to represent the universal “I was here!” statement, something that would last long past the death of it’s maker, a primitive but powerful statement of innate creativity. I think we all have that desire to some degree: artistic and linguistic expression, including newer ones like social media and web sites. All attest to the desire to leave a mark, however small.

But, we were at the Peekaboo site with a purpose, to find the secondary panel Claire had missed. Salt Creek scribes a gooseneck around the Peekaboo site, with a small window punched through at the narrowest part of the solid rock ridge. We went through the window and scrambled the rock verge looking for anything resembling rock art. We passed beautifully smooth slabs of rock and borrowed a label from the more experienced, “They sure missed a good opportunity there!”

Along a small way-trail, we were confronted by a very pugnacious rodent we later discovered was quite rare. He raised high on his obviously-made-for-digging, front paws, bared two huge incisors and fixed us with his beady eyes. To add to his fearsome demeanor, he clicked his teeth together menacingly. We teased him with hiking poles, but ultimately it was we who ceded the trail to the critter. One for the wildlife.

Back at the window without seeing any rock art, we pondered a myriad of options. We’d already walked an extra mile or so, and could easily get distracted into a couple more and not get started enough to get back to the trailhead in time to ride our bikes back to the campground; before the moon comes up, it is very very dark here!

We gave ourselves a time limit and set off along yet another wall with many a, “They sure missed a good opportunity there!” smooth expanse. Finally we found one lone pictograph; neat, but not the panel we sought. Eventually we turned back and decided to follow a steep path across the dry creek bed to the opposite wall. Another goose neck saddle, a huge cave, wonderful vistas again, but no panel. We reluctantly began the return. Nearly a week later and I’m still icing my knee from that sand slog. Never again; I’ll find a slick rock route next time, even if it is longer.

Back on campground duty, we talked to a rock art nut (Ray would gladly accept the moniker) and he said all we had to do was look high up on the cliff opposite the window to see the amazing panel. We’d been all around it, looked at it perhaps but it was in shadow and would have required binoculars; another lesson learned.

The West is full of accessible rock art. All it takes is a little walking and patience. In these United States, we are very fortunate to have so much public land where these special places are preserved for all to enjoy. If you do find rock art, respect it’s value to future generations: do not touch, body oils damage and rubbings hasten the deterioration of all rock art. If you find artifacts nearby, enjoy, photograph, but leave them where they are. It’s easy to rationalize that “someone” will take it, why not me? We’ve seen 1,000 year old corn cobs in ruins; don’t be the one to break the chain of civility. Enjoy your discovery and leave it to thrill another.

 


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