Lower Paria Canyon Petroglyphs (Vermillion Cliffs National Monument)



For the third time in as many years I have found myself standing at the confluence of the Colorado and Paria River. This region of Arizona has become one of my favorite getting away from it all places, and a splended jumping off point for adventure. I had limited time on my hands on this particular trip, and I was itching to see something new, but because the trip was thrown together in one evening I had no opportunity to do any research. Thankfully in the past I had over researched the region, and managed to remember some details of things that I hadn’t had time to visit on previous trips.

The Paria River runs for roughly 95 miles from Bryce Canyon in southern Utah to northern Arizona before dumping into the Colorado River.





Archeologists believe that Paria Canyon was used as a travel route by Native Americans for up to 10,000 years before the first Europeans arrived in the region in 1770s. The Anasazi were known inhabitants to the region from 200 A.D. until around 1200 A.D.. They farmed some stretches of the canyon, and built granaries for crop storage. The last group of Native Americans to utilize the canyon were the Paiute, and where the name Paria comes from. In the Paiute language, Paria means, water that tastes salty.

I have known for sometime that there were petroglyphs carved into boulders in the lower regions of Paria Canyon, they were left there by the early people who had traveled and farmed the canyon for hundreds if not thousands of years. Since I had yet to seek them out, that is what I decided to do on my one day in the area. I parked at Lee’s Ferry and set off on foot up the red rock canyon.

A well-defined trail travels through the canyon, crossing the murky Paria River countless times. In places the water reached my knees. At other times I found myself bogged down in a coating of muck. Either way it was a warm day with temperatures reaching into the 80’s, so the wetness was cooling, and more than welcome.

Cottonwood trees, mormon tee, and cacti grow along the banks of the river. Their green color stands out among the mostly red soil, canyon walls, and bright blue sky. Lizards darted out in front of me only disappear seconds later in the scrub or under a nearby rock.





Not knowing exactly where I would find the petroglyphs, I found myself deviating from the trail often, searching among the boulders that had fallen from the cliffs above. For the most part these diversions didn’t amount to anything more than a different view of my surroundings. When I did begin locating petroglyphs it was around 6 miles into the canyon, and they were clearly visible from the trail.

The first petroglyph boulder had roughly half a dozen designs pecked into it, the most interesting being of two full-bodied anthropomorphic figures. The designs were well weathered, indicating that they have some age to them. Unfortunately this boulder also contained vandalism from thoughtless and ugly people who have passed it by. Thankfully the prized anthropomorphic figures were spared and remain pristine.







Continuing further down the trail, I happened to notice what appeared to be petroglyphs on a boulder just a short way off the trail. It ended up being that this boulder contained the prize of the day. I was in awe as I climbed up to find the entire top of the boulder covered in shamanistic looking full-bodied anthropomorphic forms. These figures looked angered, and ghostly. Their faces drawn like skulls, some with horns. Amongst the figures are dozens of bighorn sheep and other zoomorphic images, along with foot prints, and spiral designs.

Thankfully, I don’t believe that this panel is seen often despite its close proximity to the trail. Most people hiking this trail do so from the north, and the panel is obscured from that direction. There also isn’t a social trail leading to it, and there were no other footprints leading to it at the time of my visit.  I have also never seen it mentioned in any guidebook, or photographs of it before.

Not even a quarter of a mile past the large panel I encountered one last set of petroglyphs. Again it was located a little off the trail, and despite being clearly visible from the trail, I doubt many people notice it unless they are specifically looking for petroglyphs. This panel again contains a full-bodied anthropomorphic figure, along with various lines, and heavy scratching on the top of the boulder.

At this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and I was seven miles from the vehicle. It was time to turn around despite knowing that there are additional panels to be found. I was pleased with my findings of the day. It was another successful trip to one of my favorite places in the world.









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.