In June, I visited Legend Rock State Petroglyph Site near Thermopolis, Wyoming. The quarter-mile-long sandstone cliff at an isolated site is adorned with hundreds of Legend Rock petroglyphs. When you walk the trail beside these images, it is truly a step back in time.
Seeing Legend Rock petroglyphs up close
More than 300 petroglyphs have been identified on 92 rock panels. The oldest are at least 10,000 years old. The petroglyphs were carved by “ancestors of today’s Numic-speaking Eastern Shoshone tribe.”
Due to the fantastical nature of the images carved here, this site is thought to have been used by individuals on vision quests. The images were carved so long ago, their exact meanings are unknown.
In 1973, the state acquired the site and later that year, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The site included sections owned by the state and federal government, and private landowners. In 2015, local landowner Richard Wagner donated the last part needing protection.
Though some of the pictures are recognizable, like the small hoofed animal on the right side below, others are not. The figure on the right almost looks like it’s standing on legs on the top of its head.
Other Legend Rock petroglyphs are more geometric, like the nested circles in the middle right below.
The one pictured below looks like a figure within a figure.
Here’s a closer look.
Over time, some carvings have faded. This area sees cold, snowy winters and blazingly hot summers.
To see these petroglyphs more clearly, I’m sharing an enhanced picture. I used the Auto level and increase saturation settings on the Rock Art Enhancer app. This app includes several tools to enhance images.
Some of these show creatures not seen on other panels. The one on the right side looks like a lizard.
I liked the Legend Rock petroglyphs on both the left and right side on these panels.
I especially liked the thunderbird petroglyph. The more human-like figures nearby almost look like they have wings.
I’m sharing another image of these petroglyphs using the Rock Art Enhancer app. This time I used the D. stretch YUV setting. The psychedelic colors create a more mystical interpretation.
Several of the panels include hooved animals. This one was larger in scale than most of the others.
Some appear to be wearing elaborate headdresses, like the one shown near the bottom of this panel.
Others appear more human, like the one on the lower left.
The panel below shows a group of figures.
Unfortunately, visitors to Legend Rock defaced parts of the site with their own carvings. This one has “WH” carved on the left, “R.H. 1900” carved in the middle, and “MO 1911” carved on the right.
This panel shows more recent carvings. The left panel shows a modern day house. Someone carved the letters “JC” into the one on the right.
Disturbing sites like these can be a state and federal felony so please admire them from a distance. Security measures, including video-surveillance, helps protect the site from vandalism today. Thorny greasewood shrubs, and the occasional rattlesnake hiding among the boulders, should also discourage visitors from getting too close to this sacred site.
Visiting the site
Hot Springs State Park, in Thermopolis, manages this site. From May to September, the interpretive center is open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The rest of the year, visitors can get a key for the center at the State Bath House, Thermopolis Chamber of Commerce, and Hot Springs County Museum.
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