Southwest 2015 – Secret Petroglyphs and Slot Canyons

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Friday, December 11th, 2015

This morning we awoke to some pretty ominous clouds in the sky and wondered if the snow storm was coming in a bit early. Julia and I didn’t want to waste any time so we got ourselves some breakfast downstairs and then got cleaned up and ready to hit the road. We wanted to stop off at the Zion Adventure Company for some general questions about the Narrows tomorrow. The girl we spoke to said that there was the possibility of a flash flood today and so booking ourselves for the next day was a good idea. I wanted to explore the region of the park just beyond the east end of the tunnel and I had asked her if there were any points of interest back there.

She mentioned that there were some petroglyphs that she could not give us the exact location of so as to keep the traffic low in that area, but she did give us some clues. I also asked her about any cool slot canyons that we could walk through and she said there were plenty, but they were mostly deep and required rappelling down into which she advised against due to the potential flash floods for today. That was all I needed to hear, and we were off!


We set off along Route 9 up to the main tunnel and past the Overlook trailhead parking lot that we visited the yesterday. The roads through the backyard area of Zion are windy and surrounded by magnificent rock formations. The place we were looking for was Keyhole Canyon, this was the place near the hidden petroglyphs and surrounded by plenty of slot canyons to explore. We crossed a second, much smaller tunnel on the way to our destination. It was no where near the size of the big tunnel, but I felt that it was just as photogenic, so we stopped really quick for a shot.

“This is a smaller tunnel at the east end of the park, we drove through it on the way in a couple days ago.”

Keyhole Canyon, Zion

GPS Coordinates: 37.2254526° N, 112.9091766° W

On the way to the Keyhole Canyon, we started to catch some light rain, but that didn’t stop us, what DID stop us was a small family of Big Horn Sheep grazing on the south side of the highway. We found a spot to pull over, grabbed our gear, and a big umbrella in case it started to rain harder. We tried to sneak around so the Big Horn Sheep wouldn’t notice us, but once a single sheep had spotted us, the rest turned their heads to look. They didn’t move at first, they just stood there munching on leaves and flicking their tails. Eventually they started to trot away and we were still at a good distance away from them too. Definitely some skittish critters.

“Looks like a solid place to park the Starship, we’ll take the rest on foot from here.”

“We walked a small way back along the side of the highway and came very close to the family of Big Horns.”

Julia and I snapped a few shots of the Big Horn Sheep, but after only a brief moment, we realized that the rain was hitting harder than normal. It was suddenly hailing tiny pellets of ice! We made our way down into a ravine where we could take shelter under the highway and wait a bit before we could start our hunt for the hidden petroglyphs.

“We found this great tunnel under the highway to take shelter from the hail.”

“The hail was tiny, but it was falling in large amounts.”

“It got pretty intense for a moment, but then it slowed down a bit.”

“I wanted to check out the area near this hole weathered rock wall, so we stepped out into the light hail.”

“Hunting down the hidden petroglyphs of Zion.”

7,000 Year Old Petroglyphs

GPS Coordinates: ??.???????° N, ???.???????° W

Julia pointed out a suspicious looking wooden fence atop the west bank of the wash that we were hiking through. When we went up to investigate, “Bingo!” Petroglyph City! There were many of these amazing figures scattered all across the wall of rock that ran along the wash. We grabbed our cameras and started shooting it all.

The Petroglyph Canyon archeological site includes two panels containing a total of over 150 figures. The north panel contains at least 76 figures, including the site’s only pictographa small red triangle. The figures include anthropomorphous, human-like figures, concentric circles/spirals, and zoomorphs animal-like figures. Most of the figures were made by pecking. This could have been accomplished by striking the cliff directly with a hammer stone. The very controlled execution, however, may indicate the use of the hammer stone to strike another hard object, in much the way that a chisel is used. Between the two panels, is a series of wide grooves along a rock shelf at about knee height. These grooves suggest tool sharpening, perhaps of the very tools used in creating the images.

The south panel is 200 feet from the north panel, along the same cliff face. It has at about 77 figures. Most are animal figures, especially with curving horns resembling bighorn sheep. Animals thought to be bighorn sheep are common themes in Southwestern/ Great Basin rock art. Many archeologists believe that these depictions reflect the economic importance of bighorn sheep, since the bones of these animals often appear in sites in the area. Southern Paiute elders say that their ancestors hunted mountain sheep in Petroglyph Canyon. Bighorn sheep pictographs and petroglyphs were made in many different styles. The styles should tell us something about the movements and interactions of different cultural groups. Compare the sheep at this site with those at other sites as you travel throughout the southwest. (Source:




“Could this be a visual warning of flash floods in this area?”

“There was a good 100 ft (93 m) stretch of petroglyphs along this wall alone.”
“Definitely some Big Horn Sheep resemblance happening here.”

“A great sign posted to inform and warn those who would harm this site, full text typed out below.”

Humans have occupied the Zion area for perhaps 7,000 years. Past inhabitants include Archaic groups, Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi/Fremont), and ancestors of the Southern Paiute. Any or all of these groups may have contributed petroglyphs (pecked, scratched, or incised images) to this site. New methods of dating rock art may soon help us determine the ages of the images, thus clarifying their relationships to particular culture groups.

Please help us to protect this legacy; look, but don’t touch!
Under federal law, persons deliberately destroying rock art may be fined up to $250,000 and/ or imprisoned. Report suspicious activity to a ranger or call the Archeological Resources Protection Act hot line at 1(800)227-7286.

“It finally stopped hailing and the remaining hail pellets melted into the surroundings.”

When Julia and I got our fill of Petroglyphs, we wandered around the area nearby to explore more of the fantastic rock faces and swirly sandstone walls. While we headed east, we ran into some familiar faces again and this time they were feeling a lot less skittish since they were on higher ground.

“Julia is armed with her 70-200mm and a sharp eye.”

“The very same family of Big Horn Sheep from earlier were grazing at a higher location.”

“They were more at ease with our presence since they were high enough to keep an eye on us.”

“Excuse me sir, that will be enough for today, no more pictures please!”

The Big Horn Sheep moved along as they grazed and we continued our exploratory hike through the Keyhole Canyon area. We realized that the only way to get a good look at some of hidden stuff was to start climbing. I let Julia take the lead on this one as she went up and over an inclined rock wall to see what was on the other side.

“Julia takes the lead up over this natural rocky barrier.”

We saw a hidden wilderness of photographic potential, so we carefully made our way down the backside of the rocky slope and searched for the elusive slot canyons that we were told about. This place looks a hell of a lot bigger in person, such a perfect location for one serious game of Hide and Seek.

“This rock face had the best impersonation of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot that I had ever seen!”

“Eureka!, I found what appeared to be a small Slot Canyon!, just had to get past the slippery sandstone.”

“This was a great start, but it was deep, narrow, and filled partially with melted ice water.”

Julia joined me up the slippery sandstone and we crawled higher to see if we could at least follow the direction of this Slot Canyon from a higher vantage point. The rock was less slippery for us as we climbed higher because it flattened out a bit more giving us a more stable footing. The Slot Canyon was in full view, but it was very deep and without climbing gear and ropes, it just wasn’t going to be happening for us today.


“Suddenly it was Hailing Hard!”

It was at this time that we were hit with a hard hail storm and we realized “Shit!” if we barely made it up here because of how slippery it was, there was no way we were getting down during a hail fall like this! That wasn’t even the bad news, we had crossed a significantly wide section of wash that could easily become host to a flash flood river which would be impossible to cross if it continued to hail like it was. Fortunately the hail storm only lasted five minutes and we were most relieved. We did realize that it could start again without warning and there was no telling if it would stop next time, so we hustled to find an alternate way off the rocky slope we climbed without sliding down into a pool of ice and ice water. Eventually I found us a small access point further up the wash that involved climbing down a fallen tree.

“The tree we used to climb down from the sandstone rock dome that we were stuck on.”

“Feeling a bit more relaxed, we took photos of the wash that led us back to our starting point.”

“Julia felt like showing off a little by moving this massive tree out of the wash for us, what a champion!”

“We hiked up and over the way we came down, you can see a small strip of the highway below.”

We made one more excursion to a nearby location before lunch. It was to the west of the Petroglyphs this time and there were some pretty neat features in the surrounding rock along the way. Some of the sandstone had these beautifully hypnotizing lines that flowed like a finely sculpted artwork. The reddish/orange hues of the Navajo Sandstone added to the overall beauty of the rock. This place was perfect for some wicked macro photography.

“I had Julia pose in front of some tilted sandstone slabs for scale.”

Along the way to the next location we found a small cave in the rock, it was much too dark to wander inside. I could walk in it myself, but I would have to hunch over a bit as it was not very big height-wise. It didn’t appear to be natural, or maybe it was? Either way, we left it alone and continued along the wash to our new destination.

“The trek through here was significantly easier than the previous location.”

“Eureka again!, found the next set of Slot Canyons and they were more than 15 ft. (4.5 m) deep.”

“Everything about this place is just massive, made me look like a mini hobbit.”

“Some of the Slot Canyons here were dry while others had water in them like this one.”

“As before, the lines in the rock are simply beautiful and curious to look at.”

“Julia gave me that, ‘Okay, I’m hungry now look’…lol, and I totally agreed!”

Cafe Soleil

GPS Coordinates: 37.1977765° N, 112.993563° W
Well, I said that we would be back. Seriously, this place is the healthiest and tastiest place for lunch in all of Springdale. Julia and I grabbed the same stuff we ordered yesterday and relaxed as we chowed down and talked about all the cool stuff we saw today. We also contemplated what we were going to do after this.


When we stepped out of the cafe, we drove into the park again to walk off our lunch. This time we headed toward the parking lot near the Emerald Pools. We didn’t really want to take photos this time, but rather just enjoy the hike and the scenery for once without being compelled to photograph everything. The hike was a most excellent one.

The sun had started to set when we got back to the Starship so we drove back out to Route 9. We cruised a bit until we saw a place to pul off the side of the road and wander for a bit to grab whatever shots we could get of the remaining daylight.

“The massive West Temple was looking pretty great with it’s own clouds forming below.”

“The peak of Bridge Mountain began to form some clouds as well with the setting sun lighting up it’s west face.”

“The last rays of light burst through a cloudy horizon just as the day comes to a close.”

With the sun completely set, Julia and I retired back to the cozy quarters of our hotel in the lovely town of Springdale. If there’s one thing I do love about the Holiday Inn Express, it’s the nightly round of fresh baked complimentary chocolate chip cookies, citrus infused water and hot chocolate with marshmallows! <3

“So much win happening at the Holiday Inn Express!”

“Julia enjoys her Hot Chocolate and Cookies by the warm fire in the lobby.”

The day was full of exploration and although we did not get to walk into the Slot Canyons we found, they did reveal just how extensive a network there is in Zion National Park. The Petroglyphs were super cool and seeing wildlife with an occasional hail was a plus. Just before the end of the day, I had managed to call the Zion Adventure Company about the weather conditions for tomorrow and they said that it looked all clear, but the following days would be a possible snow storm. She said that If we were going to hit up the Narrows, tomorrow would be the last day for a while. I took her advice and reserved two suits for early tomorrow morning. It was time to get a good night of rest, because tomorrow was going to be a big day of adventure!

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



©Indigoverse Photography. All Rights Reserved.

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