Cat Stair Canyon Rock Art (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

"Boogeyman" like pictograph in red ochre. A very faint anthropomorphic figure in white can be seen to the left.
Petroglyhs at Cat Stair Canyon.

Petroglyphs at Cat Stair Canyon.

 

The Cat Stair Canyon site is a small but very interesting site in southern Utah. It is located south of Highway 89, in a gorge directly below the highway. From the gorge you can hear people zooming past; totally unaware of the 6,000 year old rock art directly below them. The site is accessed via dirt road, just east of the canyon off of the highway. A closed gate is across the road, open it and drive through to the parking area below. A trail leaves the parking area and enters the wash below. Follow the wash west until you enter the gorge. The petroglyphs and pictographs are located on the south wall near a cave-like shelter. See the clickable map below for details.

BLM archaeologist have dated some of the rock art at this site back to over 6,000 years ago, and claims there to be several hundred designs on the canyon wall. Many of the petroglyph designs are badly faded due to the repatination of the rock over the glyphs. This can make it very difficult to make out some of the designs; it also didn’t help that I visited the site in the evening while the canyon wall was filled with shadows. Most of the pictographs on the other hand remain very vibrant, many of which are painted in a red ochre, one in white, and another in yellow ochre.

(Ochre (/ˈkər/ OH-kər; from Greek: ὠχρός, ōkhrós, (pale yellow, pale), also spelled ocher) is a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide, which ranges in color from yellow to deep orange or brown. It is also the name of the colors produced by this pigment, especially a light brownish-yellow. A variant of ochre containing a large amount of hematite, or dehydrated iron oxide, has a reddish tint known as “red ochre”.)

Because some of the petroglyphs date back 6,000 years, it is very likely that the earliest designs were placed here by the Anasazi (currently known as Hisatsinom people) or the Fremont people.  More recent designs can be attributed to either the Shoshonean or Southern Paiute.  A considerable amount of more modern carvings are visible throughout the ancient designs, the BLM considers these to be historical as well, calling them cowboy “glyphs,” placed here by early white settlers to the region.

"Boogeyman" like pictograph in red ochre. A very faint anthropomorphic figure in white can be seen to the left.

“Boogeyman” like pictograph in red ochre. A very faint anthropomorphic figure in white can be seen to the left.

 

 

Top right: A bug like pictograph design in yellow ochre. Bottom left: Pictograph in red ochre, consisting of several lines.

Top right: A bug like pictograph design in yellow ochre. Bottom left: Pictograph in red ochre, consisting of several lines.

 

 

Very large deer petroglyph

Very large deer petroglyph

 

Spiral petroglyph

Spiral petroglyph

 

Dark red wavy lined pictograph

Dark red wavy lined pictograph

 

Anthropomorphic stick figure petroglyph

Anthropomorphic stick figure petroglyph

 

 

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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