Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel


If you need proof that prehistoric man had some artistic talent, you need look no further than the walls of Buckhorn Wash.

As you round a curve on Buckhorn Draw Road and approach a small parking lot, there by the side of the road is a bold, clear display of 2,000-year-old art.

These paintings are surprisingly bold and well-preserved, despite some problems with graffiti that have mostly been removed.  The drawings were left behind by people of the “Barrier Canyon” culture, somewhere around the time that B.C. turned into A.D.

While there are some estimates on who left these drawings here, and when they created these works of art, one question that remains unanswered is why.  The meaning behind the images may never be unlocked.  And some, like these, add an extra mystery.  Take a look at the chests of the figures.  Their hearts have been chiseled away.  Was this intentional scarring left by the original artist, or another group of people that came through the area, centuries later?

In this part of the panel, it appears the artist used the natural curve in the rock as a stage for his characters.

These are called the “rain angels”, though it’s unclear if the lines radiating from them are angelic wings, rays of power, or something modern man doesn’t understand.  One of the characters has not one, but four holes pecked in its torso.  But, like almost everything else about these images, the meaning is a mystery.

Painted art isn’t the only thing on display in this outdoor museum.  In addition to the pictographs (painted drawings), there are also some petroglyphs: images that have been chipped into the rock.  These were most likely left behind by the people of the Fremont culture.  They’re practically new, relatively speaking — they were only made about 1,000 years ago.

It’s no surprise that this petroglyph appears to represent a bighorn sheep.  Desert Bighorns are native to Utah, and still live in Buckhorn Wash today — although their population had to be rebuilt in the late 1970’s.  Currently, there are more than 900 Desert Bighorn sheep in the San Rafael Swell.

Because the Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel lies along the Old Spanish Trail, there has been a steady stream of potential vandals passing by this spot for two centuries.  The panel was heavily vandalized until the mid-1990’s, when a restoration project removed a great deal of the damage.  Nowadays, the area is patrolled by the local sheriff’s office.  One deputy drove by and gave me a close look as I was taking pictures of the petroglyphs.  

Leaving the pictograph panel, the road continues its scenic drive through the Wash.  The historic swinging bridge over the San Rafael River isn’t far from here.

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