One of Capitol Reef National Park’s most unique attractions are its ancient petroglyphs. The Capitol Reef petroglyphs, also known as the Fremont Culture petroglyphs, are visible from two stops along Utah Highway 24. Both feature wooden boardwalks that make it easy for guests to get a closer look, while remaining at a safe distance.
The Capitol Reef petroglyphs were created sometime between 300 and 1300 CE (Common Area), when the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people made their way through what is now Southern Utah. Both sites that visitors can view today feature both pictographs and petroglyphs. The former are pictures painted on rock surfaces, while the latter are images carved into the rock. Pictographs are more susceptible to erosion and weathering, which means that petroglyphs are more common, especially on rock faces with little protection from the elements.
Planning a visit to see the Capitol Reef petroglyphs during your next visit to Cougar Ridge? There are a few rules you should know first. Keep reading to learn more.
Look, But Never Touch
Because pictographs are painted onto the surface of the rocks, many have degraded or even disappeared over time as a result of water, wind, and erosion. While the Capitol Reef petroglyphs have stood the test of time, they are still at risk. And one of their biggest threats are human visitors.
Touching petroglyphs can cause the oils in your fingers to transfer to the surface of the rock. Over time, this can degrade the rocks and potentially damage the images left behind by early people. Additionally, climbing the rocky faces to get closer to the petroglyphs can cause damage to them.
Touching petroglyphs can ruin them for future generations. It can also land you in legal trouble. All archeological sites, including the Capitol Reef petroglyphs are protected by The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. This means that acts of vandalism are punishable by up to $20,000 in fines and/or a year in prison.
Stick to Marked Trails
Touching petroglyphs isn’t the only way that they can get damaged. Straying from marked trails and getting too close to a petroglyph can also lead to damage to these irreplaceable artifacts.
In Capitol Reef, the petroglyphs are located up a steep rock face. Straying from the trail can not only lead to damage to them, but can also put you at risk of a fall or injury. Luckily, two sets of raised wooden boardwalks allow you to get a better look at the artifacts while staying safe and on the marked trail.
While the boardwalks will help you get closer, bringing a pair of binoculars is a great way to get even closer without leaving the trail.
Take Only Photos
It can seem harmless to bring home a rock souvenir during your visit to see the Capitol Reef petroglyphs. But removing rocks can disturb the ecosystem. And while one rock may seem harmless enough, if every visitor took one with them when they left, it could dramatically change the landscape of Capitol Reef.
During your visit to see the Fremont petroglyphs, take only photographs, and leave only footprints. Never remove rocks, plants, or other natural objects from the park.
Don’t forget to pack out your trash, too. While it’s great to pack snacks and drinks to enjoy, don’t forget to throw away any trash. If garbage cans aren’t available or are full, pack out your trash, and take it with you until you can find a proper trash receptacle.
Leave Artifacts Where You Find Them
Rocks and plants aren’t the only things that you should leave behind in the park. Rain and erosion can sometimes reveal ancient artifacts in the park. But if ever stumble across a shard of pottery, pieces of stone tools, or any other artifacts, leave them where you’ve found them. Just as it’s illegal to damage petroglyphs, it’s also illegal to remove artifacts.
If you feel that the artifact is something that needs to be protected, like an intact piece of pottery, you can contact a Park Ranger and let them know the location where the item can be found.
Planning Your Visit to the Capitol Reef Petroglyphs
The Capitol Reef petroglyphs are a must-see during your visit to Cougar Ridge. But it’s important to remember that the petroglyphs are an ancient cultural artifact that can’t be replaced or repaired. Protecting them during your visit is important, and is the best way to ensure that they are around for future generations to enjoy.
From staying on the raised wooden boardwalks to taking only photos and leaving rocks and artifacts behind, these rules can help you stay safe and protect the petroglyphs during your visit.
Ready to start planning your own trip to see the famous Capitol Reef petroglyphs? Book your next stay at Cougar Ridge today!