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Guide to the Potash Road Rock Art Sites


Just a few minutes from downtown Moab, on the Potash road running along the Colorado River is the opportunity to see a half dozen sites that hold hundreds of petroglyphs and even some dinosaur foot prints


Potash road petroglyphs

Head north out of Moab on Highway 191, after crossing the bridge over the Colorado River it’s 1.3 miles to the left turn onto Utah Scenic Byway 279 (Potash Road). Reset your trip odometer when you turn onto Potash Road.
  • Binoculars are helpful because so much of the rock art is high up on the walls on your first stops
  • If you want to explore the full length of Potash Road use the Potash Road Guide

Paper dolls

5.0 miles ( 38.544571, -109.600048 )
This section of the Potash Road is popular with rock climbers, go slow and watch out for them. Look for the “Indian Writing” road sign and the large pull-out on the river side of the road with interpretive signs.
The petroglyphs are going to be along a 125-foot section about 30 feet up the rock face. There used to be boulders and rubble piles along the bottom of the cliff but this was cleared out when they built the road which explains why the rock art is so high up. You can see the white marks along the cliff face that show how high the rocks once were.
The round holes carved into the sandstone underneath the left side of the petroglyph panel once held the roof poles of an ancient structure that was excavated by archae­ologists prior to road construction. Some of the petroglyphs are around corners from the cliff face and are easily missed.
Potash road petroglyphs 5
At first glance, the sheer amount and variety of figures can be confusing. You should notice a theme of lots of big horn sheep, elk, hunters with bows and arrows, centipede-like objects, human figures holding hands in lines, and shaman-like figures. 
Interpreting the artwork
Things will become clearer once you start thinking about the concept and importance of game drives.
  • This area you are in was a natural choke point, with the cliffs on one side and the river on the other.
  • Above you is Poison Spider Mesa, a large area that once held lots of game, rabbits, deer, elk, bighorn desert sheep.
  • Just down the road from here a short distance is a natural draw that leads up to the mesa top.


Game drives involved tribe members pushing game in a planned direction toward natural or man-made fences to funnel the game to a final destination where it could be harvested.


Look at the Paper Dolls petroglyphs and instead of this representing possibly some sort of tribal dance, think about the more logical artistic representation of it just being tribe members holding hands in a long line to drive game.


Paper dolls petroglyph


Now look at the ‘centipede-like drawings, notice the animals within them, look at the hunters, are these not just representations of fences strategically placed to guide or trap game?


Potash road petroglyphs fences

Most of what you are seeing points toward honoring or illustrating the use of this area where tribe members periodically or seasonally harvested game, driving them across Poison Spider Mesa above us toward the draw nearby into this natural choke point where they were harvested by the tribe. The ancient ones were just illustrating what went on here, the shamans are part of their beliefs in hunting spirits providing for a successful hunt or honoring a successful hunt.


The Bear Hunt

( 38.542318, -109.600840 )
Continue another 500 feet down Potash road to the next pull-out with an interpretive sign.
Across the road, you will find “The Bear Hunt” a famous panel that has been said to retell the story of a huge bear being hunted by three hunters with bows and arrows, one of which is bravely shooting the bear in the snout.
Careful observation is going to lead to another conclusion somewhat less dramatic.
  • The first thing to notice is the half-sheep right in front of the bear’s chest.
  • Next, keep in mind what you’ve learned about what this area was used for and notice the similarities here to what you saw at the first stop “Paper Dolls” — look closely hunters with bows and arrows, a large herd of sheep and deer.
It is easy to see that this originally was another panel telling the story of hunting sheep and elk. 
Again, notice the bear and the half-sheep right in front of its chest. Petroglyphs don’t typically ever use perspective, objects don’t appear in front of or behind others, and bigger depictions of animals in the front with smaller depictions of animals in the back to represent distance just don’t show up in Fremont rock art.
The logical conclusion is to consider the bear was added long after the elk hunting scene existed. Another artist just chipped his big bear on top of the existing elk hunting scene, the hunters with bows and arrows really have nothing to do with the bear.
The big bear hunting scene
This is a good thing to remember when trying to interpret rock art panels with lots of individual images. It’s easy to think of the panel as a unified piece where most or all of the elements were completed by one artist over a relatively short time, but in reality, it would be more logical to believe there were many individuals and the artwork appeared in waves, applied over time, perhaps hundreds of years.
Artistically I think it is logical to consider how the earliest artists to a site would have chosen the most advantageous position for their artwork on what would have been a blank canvas, and that when others added their artwork over the years would have to fill in toward the peripheries and fringes of the panel.
So when looking at a big panel consider where would the first art have appeared, then where would following artists have placed their creations from what space was left.
Potash road petroglyphs 2

Potash Road Dinosaur Tracks

At 6.0 miles ( 38.532883, -109.608683 )
Continue less than a mile and turn right at the Poison Spider Mesa trailhead. From the large parking area, the dinosaur and rock art is at the far end near the bathrooms.
Poison Spider Mesa petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks 3
This is a short easy loop trail that switchbacks up a couple of levels to the various things to see with views over the Colorado River.  There are two large rock slabs of dinosaur tracks one lower and one upper.
The lower one is on a tilted rock slab at a 45° angle, while the upper slab is perpendicular. Both of them are thought to have broken off from the cliff top above and fallen into their current positions. 
With all the rocks and boulders piled on each other, you have to wonder what else is buried here?
Poison Spider Mesa petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks 1
The upper slab is on a bench with petroglyphs running for about 150 feet in different panels, with the upper dinosaur tracks on a slab around the middle toward the left.
The Allosaurus dinosaur walked across a muddy sandbar. Water then buried the tracks with sediment, which hardened into sandstone over millions of years before they were exposed by erosion. 
Poison Spider Mesa petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks 2
Poison Spider Mesa petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks 5

Dragonfly Canyon Entrance Petroglyphs

10.4 miles ( 38.578492, -109.636047 )
Just past the Corona Arch trailhead on the left side of the road is a large gravel area for the Dragonfly Canyon trailhead. The access to the canyon is through the culvert tunnel across the road under the railroad tracks.
However, to see the petroglyphs head up the inclined path to the right of the culvert up to the top to the railroad tracks then head right a short distance to the large boulders.
They are covered with faint, hard-to-make-out rock art images and unfortunately a lot of graffiti.
2022 11 24_11 19 38

Jug Handle Arch

At 16 miles ( 38.548634, -109.647366 )
From the entrance to Long Canyon head to the Jug Handle Arch parking area. Just to the north from the parking area is the rock art.


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Moab Maiden – Hike

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Sand Dune Arch 4

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Potash road petroglyphs 6

Guide to the Potash Road Rock Art Sites

Just a few minutes from downtown Moab, on the Potash road running along the Colorado River is the opportunity to see a half dozen sites that hold hundreds of petroglyphs and even some dinosaur foot prints

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