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Ancient Finds

Below is an article written for the Beacon Senior News by Karen Shafer about the petroglyphs found in Paradox Valley

A tall slender man, with a weathered Stetson on his head, dusty denim and tired worn western boots on his feet stepped into the Nucla-Naturita Area Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor’s Center lobby.

He said, “I’m going to Cortez, and was wondering if there are petroglyphs close by that I can go see.” He told me he was short on time and was unable to go very far. We spoke briefly and turning to go he stopped in the doorway and said, “The earth there is sacred ground.” Then he was gone, leaving as quietly as he came in.

Watching him drive away in his battered old truck, I was absorbed in thought. West of Naturita in the Paradox Valley are several sites my husband and I slip away to when withdrawing from life’s stressors.

Leaving the highway far behind, our jeep follows a faint trail leading across sage covered ground, retracing the footsteps of the “Old Ones,” ancient peoples who left images of their lives carved into stone.

Petroglyphs are made by removing some of a rock’s surface by pecking small holes with a sharp chisel-like tool against the surface while striking the tool with a hammer stone. Petroglyphs are not to be confused with pictographs. Pictograph images are drawn or painted on a rock face.

Arrowhead1- Jerrod Fast

At the Paradox Valley sites are human figures (anthropomorphs), geometric patterns (mostly spirals), some abstract incised lines, various animals, butterflies, insects, lizards and animal tracks.

There are three sites that we go to. At the first site is a large boulder blanketed with animal track petroglyphs. Among the many tracks that we identified are deer, elk, buffalo and mountain lion. A short hike over a mound leads to another great sized boulder. Anthropomorphs, deer, and lines that appear to be trails, are hammered into it. Facing the boulder is a natural stone bench. I visualize someone sitting on the bench grinding grain while meditating on the images. On this particular day, without thought, I sat down on the bench. Electric current vibrated the atmosphere encircling me. I leaped off the bench and ran several feet before turning to look back. Everything seemed to be the same, but I believe I had unmindfully disturbed the power residing there. Upon returning a few months later, I found the bench broken in half and partly concealed in the soil. I wondered if that was the result of my thoughtlessness.


Jeeping a half mile east takes us to the second site. This site requires a hike across a stone scattered wash and part way up the mountain to the petroglyph carved canyon walls. Here, the anthropormorpic figures’ bodies are elongated or triangular, some with and some without extremities, but embellished by lines. None have faces, but some have bird-like headdresses. A meandering line travels across the red sandstone rock wall with feet appearing to walk beside it. Some feet have five toes, some six. It is believed that the person with six toes had supernatural gifts. Some of the deer on this panel seem to be running, while others have their heads down as if they are eating. There is another wall with only one petroglyph, a tiny baby’s foot with five tiny toes. I was told by an archeologist that someone probably wanted a child and the Shaman was calling it into being.

The third site requires careful climbing up the mountain above a spring fed pond. A large boulder hides the petroglyph panel from below. It also protects the panel from wind and sand. A multitude of images cover the sandstone wall with incised lines along with images of lizards, butterflies, deer and spirals circling one lone figure.

Sitting in the silence, I wonder who created this world carved in stone and where in time they came from. Were they hunters? Traveling parties? Shamans? What does it all mean? What do the stones say? I do not know, but I do know that when life gets hectic, we return again to linger, stop thinking and just look and listen.

Editor’s Note: There are several petroglyph sites near Paradox Valley. The Colorado Bureau of Land Management does not produce maps of their locations, but visitors can call archaeologist Glade Hadden at 240-5300 for directions.

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