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.
Did you know you can reveal petroglyphs with a little digital magic? Yep, there’s an app for that. In this post, I’ll show you how I revealed several petroglyphs with the app, Rock Art Enhancer.Click through the slideshow of each image below.
In each of the first pictures, I show the original image. In the second, I used the Auto level and increase saturation tool. The third pictures show a variety of effects. All of these petroglyphs are located in southeast Oregon.
These petroglyphs were carved into rock thousands of years ago and over time they have become less clear. Unfortunately, the messages conveyed by many of these carvings are unknown. While some show obvious elements of wildlife, humans, and the sun, others are open to interpretation.
Revealing petroglyphs with an app
The first series shows petroglyphs on a rimrock cliff located in Harney County. The second effect brings out the details, but I prefer the almost psychedelic colors in the third image. The third effect used the Decorrelation Stretching (abbreviated as D. Stretch) YUV Custom tool.
Walking towards the burial mounds of Knowth, in County Meath, Ireland, it’s easy to imagine they must have many stories to tell. The largest mound was likely created circa 3200 BC. This is part of the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne. I featured another passage tomb nearby in The façade of Newgrange.
Each image tells a story on its own, butI created a Tale of Knowth to go along with the photos.
Tale of Knowth
“Go to the mounded land on the day fall begins.” Maimeó said to me weeks before her passing.
Once I found the 18 mounds, I didn’t know where to turn. I followed the curving trail around the largest mound. A cool gust from the north made the emerald grass covering the mound dance in the wind.
“Find the sunburst kerbstone. It will show you the way.” I remembered Maimeó’s words.
The sunburst kerbstone? I thought. Spirals, crescent, and other patterns covered the boulders encircling the mound. I wondered how I would find the right one.
I trudged around the perimeter of the mound, pulling my cloak close. Light snowfall drifted by me and settled in the characters carved into stone.
Why is it snowing on autumn’s eve? I thought to myself. I tried to keep warm by rubbing my arms and stamping my feet. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something.
In April 2019, I went on a field trip to see petroglyphs & pictographs in Harney County, in eastern Oregon. This is one of the many trips offered as a part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. Our guides that day were Bureau of Land Management archaeologists, Scott Thomas and Carolyn Temple.
One of the first things we learned was the difference between petroglyphs and pictographs.
Pictographs, like the images shown below, are painted onto rocks. These works are generally drawn with red, black, white, or yellow paint.
Pictographs frequently include depictions of animals. For example, the drawing at the top of the picture below appears to be a lizard.
Catlow Cave artifacts, including sagebrush bark sandals, grass & bark baskets, and arrowheads & spearpoints, are displayed at the Harney County Historical Society Museum in Burns, Oregon. There are a couple pointed sticks that may be “knitting needles”, used to knit the sagebrush bark together.
These cave artifacts are between 9,000 to 10,000 years old. The Northern Paiute people lived in this region. There are several caves in the Catlow Valley cliffs. Petroglyphs adorn some of the rock faces.
An amazing example of petroglyphs can be seen on the road into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Wow! I have seen petroglyphs before but never so many in one spot. There are more than 650 drawings on Newspaper Rock at this state historical monument. The dark desert varnish provides a nice contrast to the messages carved into the stone.
The first carvings at this site have been determined to be 2,000 years old. People of the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures have carved their messages into the rock over the years. Unfortunately, it looks like some more modern graffiti artists added to parts of the scene.
The meanings of the messages here have been difficult to figure out. Do they tell a story or are they merely scribbles? The Navajo refer to Newspaper Rock as Tse’ Hane – translated as “Rock that tells a story.” It does indeed appear to tell many stories. Only the people who made the carvings know exactly what those stories were.
A sky streaked with clouds frames Fort Rock, rising from the sagebrush sea in central Oregon. This is the view from a cave where ancient sandals made from sagebrush were found. Sandals and other artifacts found there were determined to be 9,300-10,250 years old. Walking from the cave back towards the mountain, you can almost imagine some of the sights ancient people may have seen.
Looking out of the mouth of the Fort Rock cave at the Sagebrush Sea, one can only imagine the thoughts of those that lived there thousands of years ago. Sagebrush sandals, found inside Fort Rock Cave, were determined to be 9,300-10,250 years old. These sandals are the oldest ever found in the world.
A small hearth was found in the cave and it was radiocarbon dated to be 15,000 years old. Several stone tools were found nearby. Though that date was questioned by some, in 2009 human coprolites (fossilized poop) determined to be from 14,300 years ago were found in nearby Paisley Cave. In 2009 a multiple function tool made from agate was discovered in Rimrock Draw Rock Shelter, near Riley, Oregon. It may have been made as long ago as 16,000 years ago.
Other ancient sandals have been found but never in the quantity found at Fort Rock. Nearly 100 sandals were found ranging from child-sized to adult. They are all the same style with a flat bottom and flap covering the toe area. The sagebrush bark is woven in a distinctive twining style. Sandals of this type were found at various locations in southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. In more recent times, ethnographers found that members of the Klamath and Paiute tribes, who lived in the Fort Rock area, wore footwear woven from sagebrush and tule.
Inside Fort Rock Cave in the past and present
The location where the sandals were found was likely a lake shore 10,000 years ago. Native peoples may have lived there because of the easy access to game, fish, and edible plants. At the present time, the cave borders a huge expanse of dry sagebrush steppe habitat. The climate changed after Mount Mazama blew 7,600 years ago. A thick layer of ash from that eruption blanketed an area covering 500,000 square miles in western North America.
If you want to see this site, you will need to go with a guide since access is regulated by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with the University of Oregon. Go here for more information – Fort Rock Cave.