The Holy Ghost Panel Southern Utah


Barrier Canyon Style, (style originated with this site in Barrier Canyon, now known as Horseshoe Canyon) B.C. 6500BC to A.D. 300 BC, Emery County


Once difficult to access, now an easy drive and hike, Utah’s premier rock art panel draws a steady stream of visitors. “The Holy Ghost Panel” is part of The Great Gallery, a 300-foot pictograph panel featuring numerous beautifully painted Barrier Canyon style figures.


The moon hangs on the horizon as I walk up Barrier Canyon. It will soon be light.  As my feet shuffle in the sand I remember my first trip to The Great Galley.  Dr. Dean Brimhall, a seventy year-old archeologist, drove my family in his jeep down a perilous road to reach what was then called “Barrier Canyon.”   Brimhall had retired from University life to study Utah’s ancient cultures. He scrambled up and down cliffs using long rope ladders, not unlike the ancient people he studied.  He believed The Great Gallery was one of the world’s great artistic masterpieces. For years he photographed and wrote about Utah’s rock art.  When his work was accepted for publication, Brimhall decided to deliver his valuable slides personally to his publisher. En route, he accidentally left the photographs in a public restroom where they disappeared.  The book was never published. His life work was lost. 


The streambed, once brimming with clear water is now a river of sand and oak brush.  The giant Cottonwood trees of my childhood are gone. Instead large park service signs warn of dehydration.


Above me, on high ledges, dawn turns the deep green leaves almost yellow.   The sun inches around the eastern cliff as I round a bend and face the empty eyes of a wall of spirit figures still in shadow. 

Sunlight creeps quickly down the sandstone wall, touching the skull-like head of the eight-foot Holy Ghost figure.  I rush up a sandy cliff, load the camera, lift my tripod, a survey pole, ten feet—to the midriff of the main figure.   The cold camera gears click, my heart pounds, I struggle to hold the pole steady and press the starter button on a cable.  The sun falls on tall spirit figures and my camera spins, capturing the first light.