Glyph Riff

Bev and I have visited many parks and sites throughout the Southwest this winter. Ancient Indian petroglyphs are common in the region, but when thinking about their creators I come to a full stop. Nobody really knows who made these cryptic incised drawings or what the motivation(s) might have been. Were the artists the same mysterious people who built and presumably occupied the ubiquitous pueblo ruins? Were the glyphs drawn casually by bored hunters or travelers, perhaps to while away a few hours while seeking shelter from the rain under a rock overhang?

Recurrent themes and symbols abound. Grotesque humanoid figures are common, as are geometrical designs such as zig-zags and spirals. Perhaps there were symbolic and/or religious impulses involved, but we will never know. The present-day Navajo and Hopi tribes-people presumably are descendants of the glyph-incisors, but lack of a written record and the mutability of vocal recollections passed down from past generations are factors which prevent us from ever knowing much, although speculation is rampant (and easy).

Here are a few petroglyphs which caught my eye. The first two can easily be seen near one of the parking lots at Petrified Forest National Monument, located in northern Arizona.

This one is one of my favorites. Is the subject a giant bird holding a thrashing human in its beak, or (more likely) a crane with a captured frog?

Just a few yards away is this crowded panel, probably a collaborative effort; various parts might have been incised over a period of hundreds of years:

A few days later we walked down a steep trail into Butler Wash, a canyon in Southeast Utah which is one of many canyons emanating from Comb Ridge. The Mormons seemed to have had a rough time settling that wondrously contorted region. On the trail I was impressed by this five-foot-long sandstone formation, which looked like some weird hybrid of a toilet and an anvil to me:

The petroglyphs at the Butler Wash site were among the clearest I’ve encountered, doubtless due to their relative inaccessibility. Here’s Bev looking like her glyph-ish thoughts are visible above her head:

Another crane-like bird with outstretched wings accompanies a weird human figure:

Notice that some thoughtless idiot with a rifle has used the circular motif towards the right as a target:

Tonight Bev and I are in a motel room in Kanab, Utah. The temperature tonight is supposed to get down to seventeen degrees F., and it will certainly be pleasant tomorrow morning NOT having to cook breakfast at a camp-site picnic table!




Filed under Photos, Travels

7 responses to “Glyph Riff

  1. Kanab! Portal to the North Rim!

  2. Unfortunately the North Rim is too cold and snowy for a visit right now!

  3. You remind me how cold I was there at night!

  4. A jeep with bald tires sliding on the snow of Mt. Trumbell.

  5. great photos and one of my favorite regions. Petroglyphs are fascinating. The Hopi and Pueblo people have claimed they can read some of them and it tells the story of their peoples but who can know for sure 😉 Man likes to leave his mark is about all we can be sure of.

  6. Joan

    Off The Wall

    Ancient petroglyphs incised into
    The rocks of mighty cliffs
    Are fascinating to our modern eyes.
    One wonders why they etched their pics
    On such momentous riffs
    But the answer shouldn’t come as a surprise.

    They weren’t offered handy canvasses
    We decorate today.
    When our muse of art creation finally calls.
    We have tunnels, bridges, freight trains.
    We don’t even have to pay
    To express ourselves on public bathroom walls.

    That our artistic longevity is brief is no surprise
    Local squelchers haul out whitewash,
    Paint and bleach.
    So it seems the ancient artisans
    Were really the most wise
    To carve their artwork high and out of reach.

  7. Marian

    this is so true !

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