Monday, January 9, 2012

A Trip to Cedar Mesa, UT

A brief intermission from the winter and snow scenes in CO to bring you a southern Utah landscape with large rocks and a road...

In The Valley of the Gods
9x18 inches - pastel on construction paper
© 2012, S.Johnson
So, this is the painting that would have been my plein air painting, if the timing had been different.  I started it on Friday and it languished on my easel for a few days.  Unlike the recent snow scenes I've been doing, this one did not come together quickly.

On Thursday morning, we headed out for one of our favorite destinations in southern Utah:  Comb Ridge and Butler Wash.  The plan was to hike to a few ruins and petroglyph sites listed in a guidebook and then find a good location in the early afternoon where I could do a plein air painting.

Alas, it didn't happen.  The guidebook we brought to find the particular ruins (called Double Stack ruin) was so vague in its description of the route that we never found them.   Trying to find such hidden archaelogical treasures is really difficult without a GPS and reliable beta.  So, we spent far longer hiking up Comb Ridge than we'd planned, and by then, it was too late to start any painting.

But, that was a minor setback in the scheme of the trip.  Instead of risking more disappointments from said guidebook, we decided to head west along the highway and check out the BLM area known as Valley of the Gods.  Not to be confused with the Garden of the Gods, which is near Colorado Springs, this area forms what is essentially the southern edge of the Cedar Mesa.  A 17-mile loop drive on a dirt road takes you through the valley and past countless buttes, spires and amazing balanced rock formations.

If these eroded structures look similar to Monument Valley, that's because it is about 25 miles to the southwest.  Probably the same sedimentary rock, but I cannot confirm this.

Anyway, here are a few of the photos from the hike up Butler Wash.

First stop is the Wolfman petroglyph panel* - a short hike takes you to these remarkable examples of rock art.  They can be seen from several hundred feet away:

You would need a ladder to reach these.  Aren't these designs beautiful?  So precise and symmetrical - these were artists who were clearly skilled and took pride in their work.  I've often thought about how fascinating it would be to travel back 1400 years and meet the creators.

Another section with a central animal figure (it looks like an owl to me), a botanical design and maybe a staff of some sort?  

Why I love abstract art:  interpretation is up to the viewer
This makes me smile; I like to think this figure is doing a Happy Dance

Next stop: a side canyon creek in Comb Ridge...frozen solid
  No ruins to be found!

Obligatory abstract image:  detail of ice from creek
Trapped air or crystal formation?  I'm not sure, but I love the patterns created.

*Editorial note:  readers will be disappointed if visiting the Wolfman petroglyph to see that doesn't look quite like the photo - several bullet holes from vandals deface the surrounding rock facade and some of the actual art.  Sad, but true.  I opted to edit them out as best I could, since they are ugly and shouldn't be there to begin with.


  1. I love to find petroglyphs, and hope some day to discover one.

    These pastels (the last post and this one) are very fine. You are doing great!

  2. I see no visible signs of struggle, and think the painting is very successful. The petroglyphs are really amazing.

  3. What beautiful pictures! And those petroglyphs are spectacular. I see quite a few of them in the area around Phoenix, but they aren't usually that clear and detailed.

  4. Looks like a nice outing. Painting came together well. Love the Happy Dance - all the petroglyphs!

  5. Thanks so much, Casey. I'm off to a slow start this year, but hopefully, I can ramp it up a bit soon. If you love petroglyphs, you should make a point to visit southeastern Utah - the rock art is astounding and abundant!

    Hey Dan - thanks, I'm glad you think so. Probably the reason it doesn't appear to be a struggle is that I really didn't rework any areas (the paper won't let me, anyway) and just moved on to the next section. It just seemed to take forever to do.

  6. HI Melissa - thanks so much for the blog visit and follow! I have photographed and viewed a lot of the Hohokam rock art in the southern AZ area (including all those panels at White Tanks), and I think it's a combination of the rock surface used and that much of it is exposed to the elements. Also, the designs are much simpler and smaller.

    Hi LeAnn - aren't they? I'm glad you enjoyed them!

    Hi Liz - thanks so much. I'm hoping we do several trips to the area again this year; it's an addictive place to visit.

  7. Love the painting Sonya! I just want to get right on that road and go! Great shadows on the left side of the road.

    The petroglyphs are amazing! I'd love to see something like that. Hopefully on another trip out west sometime.....

  8. Thanks, Debbie! I think those shadows are one of the little things that sort of "makes" the painting.

    Cedar Mesa/Bluff, UT are sort of off the beaten path, but if you find yourself out here, it's worth a visit to check out the rock art and ruins in the region. There are numerous sites throughout the southeastern quadrant of the state, even :).

  9. Wow. I just happened upon your blog. I love this piece- it's fantastic! I lived out in Utah (Castle Dale, Loa, and Moab) for a few years and it's still "home" to me. I visit every once in a while and you really captured the colors well. The cliffs came out great; but what really does it for me is the silvery sage contrasted with the oxide yellow- that ochre-y grass that cfills in the patches of dirt. BRAVO! Made me smile and pine for the desert on first sight!!!!


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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