Just north of Monticello, Utah is a road that easily qualifies as one of the best scenic drives of them all. Utah State Road 211 runs west from Highway 191 through the northern edge of Bears Ears National Monument, Indian Creek Recreation Area and the Canyonlands National Park-Needles District. The entire round trip on SR 211 is about 80 miles, which is perfect for a leisurely scenic drive. There is plenty to experience along this touring route, so be sure to set plenty of time aside for the ride!
One of the main attractions along SR 211 is the Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument. Newspaper Rock is one of the very few ancient petroglyph panels in the Bears Ears region that is located close to a paved road, so this sacred place is easy to access. Newspaper Rock also happens to be one of the largest petroglyph panels in this region, so hours can be spent interpreting the messages from ancient times.
Archeology buffs will get a thrill out of viewing the carved tribal messages on Newspaper Rock. Back in ancient times, carving clan symbols, terrain maps and depictions of events on a large rock wall was a form of communication that can be compared to a modern newspaper or a visitor's guide. Some petroglyph panels depict hunting grounds or food gathering areas, along with seasonal references. Some symbols refer to tribal clans, which can help to track the movement of groups that traveled throughout the region long ago. Celestial events are depicted too.
The location of newspaper rock panels were well known in ancient times and every culture that occupied the area seemed to leave their mark. Over the course of a few thousand years, it was possible for an old petroglyph panel to build up a collection of a vast amount of information that describes events over a very long timeline. In such an example, an old petroglyph panel can be read like a history book.
The Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument petroglyph panel is very old. The first carvings on Newspaper Rock are estimated to be well over 2,000 years old and some of the most recent carvings depict men on horseback, so this rock panel has a very long timeline. Depictions of landscapes, celestial events, hunting grounds, neighboring cultures, directions and sacred symbols all add up to one heck of a great newspaper to read! The ancient petroglyphs are so interesting that a visitor can literally stand there for hours interpreting a vast amount of ancient information and still ponder over the view for many years to come!
The roadside signage for the Newspaper Rock site is easy to spot and the parking is adequate. The short hiking trail to Newspaper Rock is less than 100 yards long and the path is well maintained, so those who have mobility challenges can experience this spectacular petroglyph panel. Just like many other petroglyph panels in the west, there is a fence that protects the wall and visitors are forbidden from touching the panel. The oil from fingertips can cause discoloration of the desert varnish coating on the rock surface. Vandalism and graffiti are a problem that the ancient petroglyph panels are subject to and the federal penalties for such a criminal act are very severe. In this age of powerful satellite camera monitoring systems, it is guaranteed that petroglyph vandals will be tracked down, but the best criminal protection is eye witness accounts. Reporting vandalism of native sacred places is required by federal law, so be sure to report any suspicious activity immediately. Acting responsibly will help to keep the ancient petroglyphs intact for future generations.
A visit to an ancient petroglyph panel in the west will reward onlookers with a wealth of information that awaits to be interpreted. The learning experience is good for children and adults of all ages, because it helps to promote understanding of local native cultures. As mentioned many time before, a visitor can simply spend hours looking at the petroglyphs carved on Newspaper Rock, so be sure to not be in a hurry. Inklings of wisdom and deeper meaning do appear out of thin air, as the voices of the past come to life in the form of ancient petroglyphs carved on a solid rock wall!
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