Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 25, 2011

Horseshoe Canyon: Treasury of Barrier Canyon Style rock art

This grouping: "Holy Ghost & Attendants." It is thought to be the earliest depiction of depth and perspective in rock art. The transparent figure is 7 feet tall and spatter-painted, possibly depicting a robe of fur.

The elongated spectral figures stared out at me with blank alien eyes, and I didn’t know who was watching whom. Arrayed on a panel along 200 feet of Navajo sandstone were dozens of anthropomorphs and animals painted onto the rock, mostly with iron oxide pigments. Late Archaic hunter-gatherers 4000 years ago made this special canyon their seasonal home on the nomadic circuit to collect and hunt. They had plenty of leisure time for their shaman-artists to create some of the most compelling rock art in North America.

I’ve had the privilege of hiking to Horseshoe Canyon’s panels seven times. Each trek brings new discoveries — fine hummingbirds hovering around shoulders, an abraded bighorn sheep herd, indented peck marks in the exact center of the chests of ten figures, or what appears to be a worshipper bending before a ‘man’ with remarkable wings. This place is not called “The Louvre of the Southwest” for no reason.

What part of our civilization will people four millennia hence find? Please comment; I’d like to know. (Sadly, all I can think of is the huge garbage island floating in the Pacific…)

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