I had explained to my kids earlier how our midsized chunk of Japanese engineering wasn't happy unless it got off-road and tasted dirt every once in a while--the rougher, the better.
We finally reached the top of the mesa, where it breaks away steeply to the south into red and white striped Moenkopi badlands.
We were looking for a cluster of petroglyphs in the Canaan Gap area near the Utah-Arizona border outside of Colorado City. I stopped the truck and surveyed the skyline. Several prominent landmarks lined up--this looked like the right mesa. We just needed to climb down to the foot of the mesa to find out for sure.
With Ren still dozing, we quietly sneaked out to have a look around.
The air was crisp and calm. From our mesa-top vantage we observed a procession of low, broken mesas stretching into that No-Man's land of the Arizona Strip.
Within a few steps of the truck, we found colorful chunks of petrified wood. Right on the rim, there was an entire log that someone had attempted to dig out, but they apparently gave up after accidentally breaking the log into smaller pieces.
We explored an area at mesa's edge with numerous small holes and caves carved by wind and water. Potsherds littered the ground.
At first Zoe and Ava were skeptical about the angular earth-tone pieces not being just thin plates of siltstone that were likewise scattered about. Ava declared, "C'mon Dad, that's just a rock." It took a carefully crafted piece of rounded bowl rim with what appeared to be a finger print to convince them that there truly was 1000-year-old Tupperware laying around.
They quickly developed an eye for it. Zoe found a nice piece with a fish scale texture. Ava found a piece with dots painted on it--both the texture and paint are indicative of later, more advanced stages of pottery making.
Zoe and Ava display intriguing relics of the past.
Ren woke up happy, legs kicking, ready to hike.
While it appeared possible to climb down through the broken cliffs to the petroglyph site, I wanted to play it safe, as well as extend the hike, by walking down the lower east side of the mesa.
Once off of the mesa and onto the flats flooring Canaan Gap, we encountered a well used trail contouring around the mesa.
Besides the presence of a single ranch in the distance, I figured the area looked pretty much the same as it did for the Anasazi.
Faded archaic glyphs at Canaan Gap.
With Zoe and Ava taking turns leading the way down the path, we arrived at the largest petroglyph panel.
The panel depicts mostly sheep and human figures. The most interesting figure is an upside down human, which likely signifies death. I asked Ava if she thought maybe someone had fallen from the cliffs and died there. "Yeah, and that," pointing to a chipped geometric shape near the falling person's right ear, "looks like a snail."
"You think falling on a snail killed this person?"
"If the slime and pieces of shell get in his mouth, then yes." she insisted.
Dead man falling--death by snail?
Just to the west is what is locally known as the "Cookie Cutter" panel. Depicted are a snake, a few humanoids, a wolf or coyote, perhaps a bear, and a mutant double-torsoed sheep. What makes this panel so fascinating is the depth into the rock they are carved. Some are nearly a 1/2 inch deep, appearing as if the rock was punched out with a cookie cutter.
After taking a closer look at the glyphs, I'm convinced they weren't originally carved that deep, but that differential erosion has simply weathered out the soft Shinarump sandstone beneath the tough coating of desert varnish.
Ava and the "Cookie Cutter" glyphs at Canaan Gap.
Still farther west is a unique glyph that appears to be a map of some sort, perhaps indicating the location of a spring. I asked Zoe what she made of it.
"Nah," Ava interjected, "it probably shows how to get to a secret Indian clubhouse."
Worthy guesses from my young archeologists.
The Canaan Gap mystery map. Where does it lead ?
We continued to search the bottom of the cliffs. I was surprised to find a couple of distinct boxy stick figures – indicating natives from the Cave Valley region of Zion National Park had visited this site.
Looking over the talus-covered cliffs from below, I could see multiple routes back to the top of the mesa. I placed Ren in his backpack and strapped him on. Zoe blazed up the slope, enjoying the challenge of finding good foot and hand holds. Ava needed a little coaxing as we started up the bouldery slope, but her confidence built quickly, and she was scouting out her own route toward the top.The girls wanted to search for more pottery and petrified wood, but with the mention of a cave and an Indian painting, I coaxed them back into the truck.
Ava stands below a pair of Cave Valley Style figures (upper right part of photo).
The dirt road to the Yellow Man pictograph site is playfully curvy and bumpy. Zoe whooped and giggled as we sped around corners and bobbed over "rocking-horse" bumps. Ava was unusually quiet. "Ava, aren't you having fun on this road?"
"No Dad, I hate this road."
I looked over my shoulder. No wonder she was miserable. Ren's car seat had tilted so severely due to the truck's side-to-side rocking, that he and his seat were in Ava's lap, pinning her against the door. Ren seemed amused by the predicament. Ava, not so much.
The appearance of an unusual stone cabin next to the road offered the perfect place to stop and fix the car seat, while checking out the ruins.
Stone cabin on the way to the Yellow Man pictograph.
With everybody comfortable again, we continued to where the road dead ends within a recessed cleft in the Vermilion Cliffs. A pretty place. It had all the makings of a great Indian campsite: a spring, abundant pinion and juniper trees, and sizable overhangs for protection from the elements. A well-used fire ring indicated that the same qualities that attracted natives so long ago also make this a great campsite today. The girls discovered a rope swing in the adjacent wash.
Ren gets up close and personal with a colorful outcrop of Springdale Sandstone.
Behind the campsite, and across the spring-fed creek, a steep path leads to a hidden overhang where I'm guessing a family or a couple of families lived. There are a number of petroglyphs adorning the sandstone walls, but the highlight is a 3-foot-tall, triangle-headed figured painted yellow and highlighted with red earrings.
The Yellow Man Pictograph near Dutton Pass in the Vermilion Cliffs.
We had a lively discussion about whether our family could survive living in the cave. Ava's main concern was not being able to keep her head warm enough to avoid "brain freeze". Zoe had serious issues with not have a flushing toilet. I had my doubts about being able to keep food on the table (rock slab).
With renewed respect for the Ancient Ones, we headed back to the comforts of modern society.