Best National Parks for Admiring "Rock Art"
There are a handful of places in the National Park System where you can view petroglyphs, which are images carved or pecked into rock, or pictographs, which are painted images. Some are walk-up panels that you can ponder for hours, others require a float down a river or a long hike. Here's a quick look at some of those units and what you can expect to find.
While there are examples of rock art that are closer to roads in this park, none can compare with those found in the Great Gallery that's located in a dusty wash of the park's Horseshoe Canyon annex. You can download a great resource (in pdf format) on the rock art of Horseshoe Canyon at this site. Visit the Needles District and a short hike to Cave Springs leads to an old cowboy camp in a sandstone alcove that has some pictographs on the back wall.
Those who spend any time in the park's Maze District also have come across intriguing panels of petroglyphs.
When it comes to sheer number of rock art images, or ease in viewing them, few units of the National Park System can compare with this monument just west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Within its 7,231 acres there are an estimated 20,000 examples, ranging from handprints to images left behind by historic American Indian and Hispanic cultures. According to park officials, "It is estimated 90% of the monument's petroglyphs were created by the ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians."
Though a float trip is perhaps the easiest, and most enjoyable, way to access some rock art sites in this monument that sprawls across northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado, there are some you can walk to with a little effort. Many of the petroglyphs were left about 1,000 years ago by the Fremont culture, according to the park. One of the easier sites to visit is the "Swelter Shelter," which lies only about a mile from the park's visitor information station near Jensen, Utah.
Not easily reached, due to the travel most visitors must endure to reach this park, Virgin Islands National Park has one curious panel of petroglyphs carved into a rock wall near a pool of water found along the Reef Bay Trail. The carvings are believed to have been the work of the Taino people, a pre-Columbian seafaring culture
It takes some walking, but an interesting collection of glyphs can be found on boulders along the Pacific Ocean in the park's northwestern corner. To get there, you have to hike the Ozette Loop Trail to an outcrop known as "Wedding Rocks." There you'll find petroglyphs of whales and other images believed to have been carved by Makah Indians long ago.
Perhaps not overly well-known among the national park junkies, the highlight of this 1,279-acre monument is a "200-foot sandstone monolith on which are carved thousands of inscriptions from early travelers. The monument includes pre-Columbian petroglyphs and the remains of Pueblo Indian dwellings." Some of the petroglyphs are relatively new, dating to the 1600s when Spanish explorers came through the region and camped here, while others go back an estimated 1,000 years. Walk the Inscription Loop Trail and you'll pass some 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions, according to park officials.