Round Trip Distance: 6.5 miles (hiking)
One-way Distance: 17.3 miles (auto)
Elevation: 4679 - 5466 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Auto - Dogs
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Facilities: Vault Toilets
View Canyon Pintado in a larger map
The BLM Canyon Pintado Natioanl Historic District is located along a 17 mile stretch of U.S. Highway 139 about 53 miles north of Loma, Colorado and 20 miles south of Rangely, Colorado. Canyon Pintado, or Painted Canyon, derives its name from Fathers Dominguez and Escalante who made several entries in their journals about the area and mentioned some of the rock paintings or pictographs. This historical stretch, along Douglas Creek, is comprised of the South Orientation site and 8 other developed and partially developed sites.
We began our tour at the South Orientation Site which we measured at a distance of 66 miles from the gas station at the corner of 24 Road and Patterson Road in Grand Junction, Colorado. There is a vault toilet, picnic area, and several kiosks at this site. The kiosks provide a wealth of information to enhance your experience and bring a little understanding about life in the valley during more ancient times. One valuable icon on the kiosks is a timeline that gives you an idea of when objects at that particular site where created.
After spending some time at the orientation site we hopped back in the car and drove 6 tenths of a mile further south to the Waving Hands Site. We hiked about one quarter mile total viewing the Fremont Indian pictographs of the Waving Hands and other images.
Back in the car again we drove 2.5 miles to the Kokopelli Site. Kokopelli is a Hopi name given to the humpbacked flute player. Kokopelli was seen as a fertility symbol who "carries in his hump seeds, babies, and blankets to offer the maidens that he seduces."
Another 7 tenths of a mile down the road is the White Birds Site. The White Birds Site requires a short hike up the hill to view. It is probably less than a quarter mile round trip. The kiosk has some good information on the local Indians diet of goosefoot and pigweed. Both are very nutritious and grow much better than corn does at this location.
We drove 1.2 miles further to the Cow Canyon Site turnoff. Once you leave the pavement the Cow Canyon Site is one mile further down a dirt road. This site had an interesting petroglyph of a pistol which must have been made in relatively more modern times by Ute Indians. It's a sure bet that when you see objects like pistols and horses that you are looking at the handy work of the Ute Indians. An interesting fact about the Ute's that was pointed out on one of the kiosks was that at the time when Dominguez and Escalante passed through this area the Ute's controlled a larger area of land than the country of Spain.
We left the Cow Canyon Site and after driving back to Highway 139 we drove another 2.1 miles to the State Bridge Site. We parked the car and walked around the hill to some Fremont and Ute Indian style petroglyph's. The round trip distance for this hike was a little over a quarter mile.
The next stop, 1.7 miles down the road, was the largest of the sites, East Four-mile Draw. There is another vault toilet, picnic area, and a lot of kiosks at this site. To see all of the panels requires an easy hike of a little more than a mile. My favorite spot here was the Sun Dagger. These three concentric circles are painted on the cliff under an overhang so that the shadow bisects all three circles indicating the season.
The next site, two miles down the road, hasn't been fully developed yet. There are pull outs on both sides of the road and a corral-pole fence in front of the pictographs but there isn't a sign to mark the site. There are a couple of hoodoos on the cliff so until they finish developing this spot I call it the Hoodoo Site. Rather than a nice Powder River gate this site makes use of a wire-post gate which is a little tougher to manage. It's important to remember to close all the gates. The road along Douglas Creek used to be down rite deadly before they completed the fence on both sides.
The last stop in Canyon Pintado, Lookout Point, is 4.5 miles further. We had to walk up a very steep hill to get to this site but we were glad we made the effort. We were surprised to find more than just a pile of rocks at the top.
A series of holes had been carved into the sandstone around the site to create an elaborate calendar. I imagine it was vitally important to not only know when to plant but even more so when to celebrate your religious festivals. I notice we are pretty particular about when we celebrate our various holidays.
The Canyon Pintado National Historic District is an easy to access collection of rock art that can all be studied in one day without a lot of effort. Some of the art is showing a lot of wear which you would expect from being exposed to the elements for up to several thousand years. There has probably been more damage done by vandalism than there has been by the weather. Besides all of the rock art we also had some closeup views of deer, elk and a herd of wild horses on the trip. If you would like to see what we saw for yourself then all you have to do is go for a nice drive and 'Take a hike'.