Top 10 Petroglyph Sites in the Western United States

Petroglyph Canyon Trail – Castle Gardens Petroglyphs – Nine Mile Canyon – Petroglyph National Monument – Winnemucca Lake Petroglyphs – Chaco Canyon – The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site – The Newspaper Rock – Sego Canyon – Horseshoe Canyon

If you are interested in the Ancient Astronaut Theory, like I am, you must be into petroglyphs! You can find them all around the world, but especially in the American West, where the native population left incredible legacy.

Ever since the beginning of times, humans tried their best to record events, tell stories and express themselves by drawing or etching images on rocks. This is especially true for the Native Americans, who had no writing, even up to relatively modern times.

The age of the rock art in the Western United States dates between as old as 14,500 years to pretty much the Colonial times.  You see a lot of event records, such as hunting or daily news. But there are some especially curious images, which are not too easy to explain. Many scholars have tried, but no one knows for sure. However, as I always pointed out in my articles, you can’t look at one place and one place only. You need to see things on a lot bigger scale, compare different countries, continents and nations. You can see incredible similarities and come to some mind-blowing conclusions…

There are so many petroglyph sites in the Western United States that it is impossible to list them all.  So I decided to make my own Top 10 of the ones I find the most interesting. Enjoy!

10 – Petroglyph Canyon Trail, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire has been a home to many generations of Native Americans, from the mysterious Basket People to Anasazi. All of them left images on rock. The oldest rock art is as old as 3000 years and it is very interesting to follow how it changes from the ancient to the more modern times.

To see the petroglyphs, you should hike The Petroglyph Canyon Trail in the Valley of Fire State Park near Henderson, Nevada. A short trail, that leads you though beautiful red sandstone rocks, is short and easy, only 0.75 miles.

9 – Castle Gardens Petroglyphs, Wyoming

These petroglyphs are located in central Wyoming about 45 miles east from Riverton and got their name due to unusual formation of the sandstone rock, which resembles castle towers. To get there, you must follow about 11 miles of dirt road, but it should not be a problem during dry weather. Do not use the dirt road if it’s wet.

These petroglyphs made my Top 10 because of their striking uniqueness. Besides some pretty typical human and animal figures, you can see very interesting drawings in circles. These are called “shield designs”. I don’t know about you, but I have never seen anything like this, even though they say you can find more of these designs in Montana. There are still disputes between archaeologists about which tribe could be the artist of these complicated shield designs.

Castle Gardens Petroglyphs

8 – Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Nine Mile Canyon made the Top 10, because it is called “the longest art gallery in the world”. Despite the name of the canyon, the actual length of the canyon is close to 46 miles! And along these miles you can see hundreds of rock art panels. It is really an amazing location with a lot of very interesting images about three hours from Salt Lake City.

The best thing about it is that there is a road you can drive. Get a guide online or in the nearby towns of Price and Helper. Simply stop at the pull-outs to do short hikes to the canyon walls.

Nine Mile Canyon
Hunt Scene at the Nine Mile Canyon / Photo by Sandy Brown Jensen / CC BY 2.0
Nine Mile Canyon
Really strange figure / Photo by Sandy Horvath-Dori / CC BY 2.0
Nine Mile Canyon
Another very strange figure / by Sandy Horvath-Dori / CC BY 2.0

7 – Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico

This petroglyph site made my top 10, because it is not just one site, but actually several different parks, scattered around the volcanic rocks. So the territory to cover is huge! First of all, travel to the main Visitor Center, where you can get the map of the whole National Monument. Then you can start your adventure and go to any of the main locations: Boca Negra CanyonRinconada CanyonPiedras Marcadas Canyon and the Volcanoes.

Allow the whole day for this adventure, and prepare to do a lot of walking! All the locations are really interesting and offer excellent hiking trails through the petroglyphs.

Petroglyph National Monument

6 – Winnemucca Lake Petroglyphs, Nevada

These petroglyphs take a well-deserved place in the Top 10, because they are considered to be the oldest petroglyphs in the North America. Researchers assume they were created between 10,500 and 14,500 years ago!

The ancient carvings are located in the western site of dried-up Winnemucca Lake. Besides typical carvings that resemble trees and leaves, there are interesting diamond-shaped geometric forms and some rather complex concentric circles!

Winnemucca Lake Petroglyphs
Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Digital Commons

The Winnemucca Lake Petroglyphs belong to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. Unfortunately, the last I checked, you cannot visit them by yourself unless you are a Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal member. Let me know if you have any different info or if you have a way to see them!

5 – Chaco Canyon

Chaco Canyon in New Mexico is another site definitely worth traveling to. To get there, you need to conquer about 16 miles of a dirt road, but any vehicle will do fine. Chaco Canyon truly deserves to be called “the Center of the Ancient World”: it hosts the biggest village complex of the ancient Anasazi, called Pueblo Bonito.

To get to the petroglyphs, you will need to take quite a long hike. It can be very hot in summer, so dress accordingly and take more water than you think you need! You can use a free artesian well near the welcome center to fill your jugs.

Anasazi Petroglyphs, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Petroglyphs in Chaco Canyon
Anasazi Petroglyphs, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Petroglyph in Chaco Canyon similar to the Planetary Symbols of Sumerian Nibiru

If you feel strong to go on, don’t turn back yet. Continue the hike all the way to see a unique pictograph. Scholars believe that the locals wanted to record a supernova explosion, which took place in 1054 CE. Today its remnants are knows as the Crab Nebula in the constellation Taurus. Can you imagine the awe that people experienced when they saw this incredible show in the sky that was visible even in broad daylight?

Chaco Canyon Supernova Pictograph
The Supernova Pictograph in Chaco Canyon / Photo by Alex Marentes / CC BY 2.0

Read more about the Chaco Culture and their petroglyphs in my article Anasazi and Their Mysterious Connection to the Sumerian Anunnaki (more photos, too!)

4 – The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This cool petroglyph site made my Top 10, because if boasts over 21,000 petroglyphs within a relatively small area. You can easily spend the whole day here, or more!

The tribe who lived here was called Jornada Mogollon. They were named so by scientists, because we don’t really know how they called themselves. Their petroglyphs are clearly different from those we see at various Anasazi Monuments. You can hardly see any spirals here. Instead, you see concentric circles, strange geometric designs, some of which are extremely complex. Even face portraits and bird figures are interesting and unique. If you are interested in this amazing site and what to learn more and see a lot more pictures of these petroglyphs, read my article Over 21,000 Petroglyphs to Explore at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, NM

Three Rivers Various
The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is located in New Mexico, about two hours west of Roswell. The road is paved all the way.

3 – The Newspaper Rock

Now we are getting to the top three of my favorite petroglyph sites. They are all located relatively close to one another, around Moab, Utah. The first is called the Newspaper Rock.

It is only one panel, but what a panel it is! The 200 square-foot rock contains over 650 carvings from Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures. The early petroglyphs are believed to be about 2000 years old. No one knows exactly, why the petroglyphs are so crammed into one small area. One explanation is offered by the Navajo name of the site: “Tse’ Hone’. It means “a rock that tells a story”. So, maybe the rock was used for thousands of years as a record of different events, basically, a newspaper.

Daily news on the Newspaper Rock

Since so many different tribes used this particular rock for their “news”, you will see a wide variety of styles. Some is typical Anasazi, some very similar to other Southwestern tribes (compare to Mogollon petroglyphs at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico!) You can see the same spirals, circles with a cross in the middle (or with a dot!). Some carvings are really unique to this area: just look at the large and strange figures with horns (or antennae!)

Strange figure

The “horned” entities always make me think of a possible connection to Anunnaki. The legends of the mysterious Ant-people (or people of Anu?) are quite telling, plus the Sumerian gods had hats adorned with “horns”. The Latin translation of Exodus describes Moses as having horns after meeting God on Mount Sinai. There are references all around the world to these strange horns…

Images of “wheels” are yet another curiosity: ancient Indian tribes didn’t know the wheel… And if it’s not a wheel, than just what is it? Maybe it does have a connection to petroglyphs of spirals, circles with crosses and such, which could be planetary symbols of different sorts.

The mysterious “wheel”

The Newspaper Rock is located about 53 miles south of Moab and the directions are easily found online. It’s easily accessible by car and there is even a small parking lot.

2 – Sego Canyon

Sego Canyon, roughly 45 minutes north from Moab, Utah, contains some of the most amazing rock art I’ve ever seen. There are several styles represented in the canyon. Petroglyphs are etched into the rock and are relatively modern (1300-1600 CE), but the pictographs (painted art) are a lot older.

Researchers call it Barrier-style pictographs, by the name of a creek in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands, Utah, where another big panel was found. The estimated age of these is from 1500 to 4000 years, maybe older (some pottery in the same style, found in the area is believed to be 7000 years old).

Sego Canyon, Utah
Sego Canyon petroglyphs
Sego Canyon, Utah
The full Sego Canyon Pictograph Panel
Sego Canyon, Utah
The right side of Sego Canyon pictographs
Sego Canyon, Utah
The left side of Sego Canyon pictographs, notice a figure, similar to the “Holy Ghost” at the Horseshoe Canyon

Being this old, these pictographs must have been created by Archaic hunters/gatherers, tribes that lived here before Anasazi. Who are depicted on these truly ancient paintings?

I know I’m constantly pointing to possible connections to Anunnaki, but I do see a strange similarity… I wonder what you think!

Enki in Sego Canyon, Utah
Enki in Utah?

For those who want to visit Sego Canyon, I’ve got good news. In comparison to the other famous Barrier-style panel in Horseshoe Canyon, this site very accessible. You can easily GPS it and the road is paved up until the very end. There is even a parking lot with a chemical bathroom!

After parking, take a short trail (about 200-300 feet or so) and the main panel is right around the corner. After seeing it, don’t go away yet. Turn around and you’ll see several spooky red figures on the other side of the road: there is the whole other section there!

Sego Canyon, Utah
More pictographs on the other side of the road

1 – Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon truly deserves to be the Number One in this Top 10 of the most interesting petroglyph sites in the Western USA.

The panel is kind of hard to reach. Ideally, you will need a 4×4 vehicle to conquer 30 miles of dirt road (if you have 2-wheel drive, you can do it, too, but be sure to check the road conditions!). In addition, you need to hike almost 7 miles (round trip).

The payoff, however, is huge, because you’ll have the chance to see probably the most significant rock art in North America. Just like in Sego Canyon, the pictographs are Barrier-style and belong to the Archaic period.

The most famous panel is the so-called “Holy Ghost Panel”, which is a part of the Great Gallery. It depicts several humanoid figures in the company of a much larger entity. Why is this? Why is this entity quite a lot taller than the rest and is even painted differently, with a lot more detail?  Is it a deity? One of the sky people? I think it is. I think it is actually the same kind, the same “family” of the ancient tall gods, the “shining ones”, the same old Anunnaki. But after seeing these images, you can make up your own mind, of course.

Holy Ghost Panel - Horseshoe Canyon
The Holy Ghost Panel at the Horseshoe Canyon / Photo by John Fowler / CC BY 2.0

And what do you think about the ancient petroglyphs of the American West? Have you seen all of these? Have you seen some other petroglyphs, not mentioned here? What do you think is depicted on the rocks? Who are these strange figures and what are these mysterious symbols? Share in the comments!

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