The Pictographs of Horseshoe and Black Dragon Canyons

Horseshoe Canyon is located within Canyonlands National Park, close to the Maze district. The terrain looks extremely sere and forbidding from the canyon rim. A trail descends from the parking area over alternating patches of slickrock and sand, over 800 feet to the canyon floor. The canyon floor, however, is a completely different environment. Cottonwood trees provide shade along a stream bed that always seems to run with at least some small trickle of water. The hiking trail is an extremely hot six mile round trip, but your reward for making it is a view of some extraordinary rock art painted on the canyon walls at three different locations. The pictographs were painted roughly two millennia ago by folk of what is now known as the Barrier Canyon culture (Horseshoe Canyon was once known as Barrier Canyon; I do not know the reason for the name change).

Canyonlands National Park uses this striking pictograph as their logo. The figure is roughly five or six feet high. Like so many of the pictographs at this site, it has a mysterious, ghostly quality. Louise and I found the figures extremely compelling and evocative in their canyon setting. It is a tribute to the skill and vision of the anonymous artist, who could so move individuals of an alien culture across 2,000 years.
The large, ghostly figure among the silhouettes (close examination of the latter reveals internal detail that does not show on the photograph) is an unusual composition. The pigment has not been brushed onto the stone, but has been applied by spattering. This technique has been used on many of the pictographs on this panel.
This is a portion of the Grand Panel that Louise dubbed "the Fancy Dress Party", for the large number of complex and beautiful figures it contains.
Most of the figures have very little detail in the heads - usually just a pair of un-pigmented spots to represent the eyes. The skull-like mask that tops this figure is the most complex of all the figures.

Black Dragon Canyon is located on BLM managed land west of Canyonlands. It is the site of pictographs drawn by people of the Fremont culture, who are considered by many to be an early off-shoot of the Anasazi people. Their range was north of the area occupied by the Anasazi. The hike is very easy, less than a quarter mile from where you park your vehicle.

This is the so-called "black dragon" for which the canyon was named. This extremely fanciful bird-like figure, about 7 feet long from wing-tip to wing-tip, is actually painted with a dark-red pigment. The white outline around this and other figures is a chalk mark added to make it easier to see the figures.
A boy and his dog? Louise commented that the animal resembles Marmaduke.
This figure is almost, though not quite, reminiscent of the Barrier Canyon paintings. Note the emphasis on vertical striping in this figure, and the figure above, as compared with the horizontal motifs of the Barrier Canyon figures.

The town of Green River is located in east central Utah. This is a good staging area for these two pictograph sites. Horseshoe Canyon is located within Canyonlands National Park, about 40 mile to the south along good dirt roads. Black Dragon Canyon is located about 15 miles west of town along I-70.