Utah is named for the Ute Indian tribe indigenous to the eastern half of the state. The name "Ute" was derived from a Native American word that early Europeans spelled and pronounced in different ways, ranging from the Spanish "Yuta" to the fur trappers' "Eutaw."
No one knows exactly when the Utes came into the area, but the earliest Utes came into the present-day United States along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. The tiny band of Sheberetch Utes dwelt in the region around present-day Moab. The group was more desert-oriented than were the others, and their history is more obscure. By the 1870s, the Sheberetch had been reduced by disease and war. The survivors joined the Uncompahgre, Weenuche, and Uintah bands who were confined to the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.
Other groups, like the Fremont, and other cultures such as the Ancestral Pueblo people who are known as the Hisatsinom by the Hopi, left behind rock art all around Moab. Whether the early people were hunters, farmers, or just moving through the area, rock art is believed to have been a form of communication or the telling of a story, but the meaning of rock art is mostly unknown. Local descendants of prehistoric cultures, including the Ute, Navajo, Hopi, other Pueblos, and the Paiute, provide the best interpretation of local rock art. Many archeologists suggest that it may represent religious or mythological events, migrations, hunting trips, resource locations, travel routes, celestial information, or other important information.
Rock Art Tips
Prehistoric Native Americans made petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are pecked into rocks. Pictographs are images painted on rock, usually with a crude stick brush or the fingers. The “paint” was minerals, blood, ash, charcoal, crushed plants or a mixture of these. The Moab area has many examples of Native American rock art. Please keep in mind that these ancient sites must be protected from any damage and appreciated for the prehistoric art they represent. Admire rock art from a distance and never touch it.
Moonflower Petroglyph Panel
To pique your interest, however, here are a few sites to investigate. The Moonflower Petroglyph Panel on Kane Creek Road covers the base of the cliff at the mouth of Moonflower Canyon. The rock art panel dates from the Archaic to Formative Periods.
Petroglyphs can be seen on the Potash Road. From US Hwy 191 take Utah Scenic Byway 279 (the Potash Road) south for five miles to an "Indian Writing" interpretive road sign. Twenty-five to 30ft up the rock wall on the cliff side of the road, you will see petroglyphs. The panel extends 125ft along the road.
Continuing south 200 yards to another Indian Writing sign, you will see a large bear with a hunter at the bear's nose and another over its back. Sego Canyon rock art panels north of Thompson contain three culturally distinct styles of rock art: Fremont, Ute, and Barrier. Take Exit 187 off I-70, proceed on Utah Hwy 94 through Thompson, and continue driving approximately three miles to Sego Canyon. Major rock art panels are visible from the road.
Wolfe Ranch in Arches National Park
Follow the signs to Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch. At the Wolfe Ranch parking lot, walk east 600ft on the established trail past the cabin and across the wash. The Ute hunting panel pictograph is on a trail that branches left off the Delicate Arch trail just past the bridged wash.
Located about 12 miles west of US Hwy 191 on the paved road that leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. This is a famous panel of more than 350 distinct petroglyphs carved by the ancients more than 800 years ago. Figures riding horses and shooting arrows are considered a portrayal of the Ute Indians who obtained horses in the 1600s.
Note: Stop by the Moab Information Center for maps and more information.
Preserve the Past
Dinosaur tracks, stone artifacts, shards (broken pottery fragments), chipped stone, ancient ruins, intriguing rock art panels, and other cultural remains and evidence of human activity are fragile and non-renewable. Please help preserve what is fragile and precious. Leave things exactly as you found them.