Travel in remote Arizona Strip country brings with it the chance to discover ancient civilizations once living or passing through this region as long as 13,000 years ago. Established in part for its magnificent cultural resource values, the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is a testament to the lifestyle of early residents here. Among the finds are the region's petroglyphs, leaving behind an art form for scientific exploration and visitor appreciation.
One of the largest known petroglyph sites on the Arizona Strip is Nampaweap. Walk the half-mile canyon trail to see hundreds of images pecked into the surface of large basalt boulders. Petroglyphs were made by pecking flakes from the surface of rock to expose the lighter colors underneath. An early method used a hand stone to strike the rock, resulting in a rudimentary figure. Later, two stones were used like a hammer and chisel, giving the artist the ability to peck images with greater detail.
Archaeologists classify rock elements into categories. Some of the elements at Nampaweap include: anthropomorphs, human-like figures; zoomorphs, animal-like figures; and, abstract designs. Anthropomorphs typically have arms and legs, even fingers and toes. Bighorn sheep, snakes and lizards are common zoomorph figures. Abstract elements include circles, spirals and various combinations of lines.
Scientists do not know the meaning of the petroglyphs. Researchers are working with native peoples to gain insight into their implication. It is possible that some images were made for religious purposes, while others may have marked a trail, commemorated an event, tracked the seasons, told a story or represented families or a clan.
Visiting a petroglyph site
A variety of factors contribute to the erosion of petroglyphs including wind, rain, extreme temperatures, plant growth and rock type. However, the single most devastating factor is human impact. Bullet holes, graffiti, and removal or attempted removal of petroglyph panels are all examples of vandalism, which sadly have occurred. Oil from hands and wear caused by stepping on the petroglyphs also causes irreparable harm to these fragile pieces of art. Once damaged, they can never be replaced. Visitor assistance and care is required to preserve this rich cultural heritage.
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790-6714
Phone: (435) 688-3200
Fax: (435) 688-3258
Monument Manager: Pam McAlpin
Hours: 7:45 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Saturday