San Rafael Sunset Central Utah


Barrier Canyon Style 1000 B.C. to 500 A.D. Emery County

If you stand in front of this Barrier Canyon Style painting high above the San Rafael canyons, you will see only a large red rectangular shape.   The mineral pigments are faded.  On my computer, I restored the faded paint pixels and was surprised to recover the original pictograph, an elongated human figure with a head and arms, surrounded by entwined snakes.  It is felt, but not known, that some of these Barrier Canyon Style images could be thousands of years old.  As a child, I visited dark-red colored Barrier Canyon Style paintings.  In my lifetime, I have seen some panels fade noticeably. Why now?  Does acidic rain or atmospheric pollutants from our industrial age speed the deterioration of mineral pigments?  Is this phenomenon similar to the deterioration of medieval sculpture in Europe due to acidic rain?  What efforts can we make to preserve the pictographs?

If you explore the washes of the San Rafael Swell in the evening, you may see high on the cliff faces tall red-tinted shadows, skull-like heads with empty eyes, legless bodies floating above rocky ledges, all invisible in the desert daylight.   I can’t photograph these ghost-like traces, glimpsed in the approaching night, but I know I am among the final few to look at these haunting images from the distant past.