Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunshine and Petroglyphs

When an early March forecast calls for sunshine and 60°F temperatures, it is fairly easy to find any excuse to be out of doors. Add to that forecast a vivid desert landscape with panoramic views of tilted red rock mesas stair–stepping their way towards snow–capped mountain peaks, and it would be a crime to stay indoors. 

As the lucky inhabitants of southwestern Utah often say, it’s just another day in paradise. 

IMG_1038Red MountainWithPineValleyMountainIn Disitance
Red Mountain with Pine Valley Mountains in distance
It was an undemanding hike description that drew nearly 20 people this past Saturday – six miles round trip with about 400 feet elevation gain. Life simply doesn’t get much better than that. 

IMG_1018Hiking NearStGeorgeUT
On the trail

Our path took us first up and then across a weathered ridge of the pebbly Shinarump Conglomerate, rocky remnants of high–energy streams that once coursed their way across half a continent to a shallow western sea. As we made our way along the rim of the ridge we paused to peer at petroglyphs hundreds of years old, ancient art as ephemeral as the 225 million year old rock upon which it had been etched. 

IMG_1025EasyRim HikersNear StGeorgeUT
Pausing along the rim

IMG_1026 Petroglyph
Circular petroglyph

IMG_1023 PetroglyphsWith PatForScale
Circular petroglyph with Pat for scale
IMG_1027Beaver DamMountainsIn Distance
Petroglyph panel along ridge trail
IMG_1035Hikers NearStGeorgeUT
Trail passes through a gate

What Are Petroglyphs, Anyway?
Petroglyphs are a type of rock art that is made by abrading, carving, chipping or pecking into a surface coating of desert varnish. This varnish is common in arid areas and is composed mainly of clay particles and iron and manganese oxides along with some microscopic organic matter. 

Rocks that are more resistant to weathering are more likely to offer a stable surface for desert varnish to take hold. Our Shinarump Conglomerate certainly fits that description.

IMG_1039 Petroglyphs
Petroglyph panel high on cliff

Along the trail we found petroglyphs on all sorts of surfaces. Some had more of a patina of desert varnish, some had less. 

IMG_1042 Petroglyph CoveredBoulder
Hikers with bunny ears; several petroglyphs are found high on boulder

One panel in particular appeared to have been a victim of either senseless vandalism or merely weathering of the exposed surfaces. One would hope it was weathering, but since this is a popular and accessible hiking area, sadly vandalism is a distinct possibility. 

IMG_1046 Petroglyphs  WeatheringOr Vandalism
Appears like someone had tried to hack away at petroglyphs on these rocks

Gradually we made our way along an indistinct path across several rock falls beneath the cliffs.

IMG_1044Along TheSantaClara River
Cruising the boulder highway

Our fearless leader led us to a surprise destination but had no idea what it was or how it got there. We stepped around and inside an old wood–shingled railroad car. It’s rusted kitchen appliances had not known electricity in what seemed to be decades. Outdoor, a concrete platform with log benches and several fire pits appeared to have seen more recent use. 

Break time at Betty Boots Salloon

Mountain Man rendezvous was one explanation for the site. Boy Scout camp as a possibility was quickly discarded in light of the railroad car establishment known as Betty Boots Salloon. 

The place was definitely an enigma, and we were mere moments from our cars. We just never know what surprises we will find on our hikes, lurking in the desert on the outskirts of town. 


Enjoy & Respect!
Petroglyphs and their painted relatives pictographs are a part of our history and are irreplaceable. We surely don’t want to see them destroyed by our carelessness or thoughtlessness.
Please do not climb or walk over them.
Please do not make rubbings of them.
Please do not touch them, paint over them, shoot at them, or carve your initials in them.
Please do not break off pieces to take home.
Most importantly, please respect these precious artifacts. Leave them intact for future generations to learn from and enjoy.


  1. Nice weather here too. Isn't it great to get back out and hike. Great petroglyphs. Too bad they weren't serving at Betty Boots.

    1. Gaelyn - We were pretty thirsty after looking at all those petroglyphs. A frozen margarita would have been tasty!

  2. Very, very nice, Nina! Terry

    1. Thanks, Terry! If chatter and conversation are any indication, everyone had a great time on the hike!

  3. I did this hike, too! Such great petroglyphs!

    1. Hi dtravelsround - Yes indeed, this area is full of great petroglyphs. What a treasure we have here!

  4. Seems like perfect weather for a hike. Very interesting seeing petroglyphs in the rocks on the way. Nice pictures too!

    1. Late winter is definitely a great time to hike in southern Utah, Josh - summers can be brutal with F temps in the triple digits. But it's a dry heat!

      Glad you enjoyed the pictures. One of the highlights of the hike was the petroglyphs, and this is just a small sample.