The Writing Traveler: Mysterious Stories in Stone
January 25, 2021
Did the stories deal with their religion, their superstitions, their journey in life or in death? Was it a warning, a thanksgiving, a prophecy, a farewell?
They came so long ago, and one by one, they stopped beside the great rock cliff and carved their messages in stone.
Their cultures were so different.
Their cultures spanned so many generations.
Their lives had been separated by centuries.
Yet, they had so much in common, these ancient people that historians would refer to as:
They left faint glimpses of their lives and their world on the face of a 200-square-foot rock at the base of those great vertical sandstone cliffs that have been carved by wind and water and time across southern Utah. Their strange symbols, their etchings of animals and birds, deer and buffalo, pronghorn antelope and riders mounted on horses, abstract forms, and stick human figures have been carved into a desert varnish, a black manganese-iron deposit left by the ages to cover the exposed sandstone wall.
The first message was left more than two thousand years ago.
Every several hundred years or so, another band of Native Americans wandered through Indian Creek Canyon, passing on by, seeking shelter for a season, or staying to farm the Puerco River Valley. They made their mark on the land. They made their mark on stone.
Then they were gone.
No one is quite sure.
What message did they carve into the rock? Was it their creed, their beliefs, their dreams, their fears? Did it deal with their religion, their gods, their superstitions, their journey in life or in death? Was it a warning, a thanksgiving, a prophecy, a farewell?
No one has any idea.
No one has ever been able to interpret their etchings.
But those hundreds of rock carvings are regarded as one of the best-preserved, most easily accessible, and largest collection of petroglyphs in the American Southwest.
The Navajo tribe called them “Tse Hane,” meaning “a rock that tells a story.”
It’s known now as “Newspaper Rock,” located twelve miles west of U.S. 191 running between Monticello and Moab, Utah. The monument is quiet and peaceful, sheltered by impassable sandstone cliffs and aging cottonwood trees.
One way in.
I didn’t see any way out.
They came so long ago.
On a face of stone, they told us why.
The why remains a mystery.
Confessions from the Road is a collection of travel stories about people and places I gathered during my journeys. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.