A trip out to Warner Valley near St. George, Utah, has a little bit of everything for the history buff. And the scenery ain't bad either.
Starting nearly 200 million years ago, at least two different species of large dinosaurs tromped around on wet sand, leaving behind some 4oo tracks, now petrified into solid rock, at the Warner Valley Dinosaur Trackway.
Exactly 235 years ago, the Dominguez and Escalante expedition descended a steep, precarious path off of Sand Mountain (red cliffs in picture below) bounding the north side of the valley and passed very near these dinosaur tracks on their way back to Santa Fe.
And in the southern part of the valley are the ruins of old Fort Pearce. The fort was a fortified shelter at a water source along the historic Temple and Honeymoon wagon trails used in the late 1800s. Close to the fort, you can find Puebloan and Anasazi petroglyphs (writings carved or pecked into rock), and at least one outstanding pictograph (writings painted on rock). Some of this art could be several thousands of years old.
That's an impressive amount of history to converge in one little desert valley that is seldom visited today.
I had traversed Warner Valley numerous times for work and play, but somehow I had failed to stop and check out the old fort. A little online research revealed the presence of nearby rock art, making me even more antsy to get out there.
So I set out with my girls and their cousin Ben to see what we could find. I had heard rumors of a huge life-sized human pictograph, and I had even made a previous failed attempt to locate it from the west, starting near Little Black Mountain and hiking east toward Fort Pearce along the wash. I was hoping today was my lucky day.
As it turns out, the key to finding the lost Redman pictograph was bringing along the junior explorers.
Both the Honeymoon Trail--used by newlyweds traveling from the St. George Temple to the Mormon settlements in northeastern Arizona--and the Temple Trail--used to haul timber from Mt. Trumball to the then-under-construction St. George Temple--passed by the fort. I recall reading somewhere that it never had a roof.
A faint trail leads downstream from the fort along Fort Pearce Wash to a number of easy-to-find petroglyphs. Much of this trail is undoubtedly part of the original Temple Trail.
As we scanned the rocks and hillside for rock art, I was surprised to find a large number of historic inscriptions dating back to the 1880s, some were carved into the sandstone, others were painted on with wagon axle grease. It's amazing to think that this fading trail was once a major thoroughfare!
After hiking a mile or so, we came to where I suspected the Redman pictograph had to be. As the kids played around on a big jumble of boulders, I climbed up into the surrounding cliffs searching for any hint of red pigment.
I wasn't having any luck with the pictograph, but I did discover several interesting but very faint petroglyphs.
Ghosts, snakes, turtles, amongst other creatures. Even bear tracks.
After searching for nearly an hour, I was ready to throw in the towel yet again. As I scrambled back down the hillside, I heard the kids get all excited, talking about some hidden treasure they had found. Ben held up an old ammo box as he explained its contents being a bunch of random junk. I immediately recognized it as a geocache, and out of curiosity, I looked over its contents, and there it was! The final clue! A rolled up note in the cache gave detailed instructions on how to find the pictograph. At last! A short but steep hike led up to a shallow overhang that has protected the vivid red ochre over the millenia.
It truly is a startling sight.
I was outsmarted by a four and two six-year-olds this day. Now I just need to recruit them to help me find the well-hidden Dancing Redman pictograph of Timpie Valley. I wonder if they'll work for ice cream?
Above: view from the Redman cave.