Three Finger Canyon Petroglyphs

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 0.4 - 3.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 4377 - 4565 feet
Cellphone: 1 - 4 bars
Time: 30 mins. to 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Three Finger Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: petroglyphs




View Three Finger Canyon Petroglyphs in a larger map

Three Finger Canyon is located in the San Rafael Swell about 10 miles south of Interstate 70. The canyon is one of many that have cut at least part way into the anticline that makes up the San Rafael Swell. Both Barrier Canyon and Fremont style rock art are common throughout the area. Three Fingers Canyon is a significant site due to the large number of images that decorate its cliffs.


Getting to Three Finger Canyon is best accomplished with a 4-wheel drive, mountain bike or OHV. A popular mountain bike route is to park near the Interstate at Black Dragon and follow the 4-wheel drive road west under the Interstate. It is a little less than 4 miles to the dirt road in this picture coming from that direction. Google Maps on the other hand will route you through Hatt's Ranch which is fine until the road all but disappears and you end up driving through some very sandy washes before getting to the dirt road that parallels the east side of the Swell. There are other routes that lead here further to the south that you can probably plot out for yourself but they are all a little longer.


We had to park about a mile and a half from the trailhead. The car in the picture is a 4-wheel drive Subaru that probably bottomed out several times to make it this far.


From the trailhead access is limited to hikers, horses and mountain bikes. The rock art is near the mouth of the canyon within a few hundred yards of the parking area.


The potholes in the mouth of the canyon may have been one of the main attracting features for its prehistoric inhabitants.


The vertical part of the cliff as well as the sandstone surface that slopes away from it are covered with images. When visiting be careful to walk around, and not on top of, the petroglyphs so they can last as long as possible.


The pictographs have faded to the extent that they are harder to pick out than most of the petroglyphs.


For this image the creator pecked away the rock everywhere except for the eyes rather than pecking deeper holes for the eyes.


The sheer number of images is hard to grasp. We outlined a few of the ones in this picture on our computer but there are many more in this photo that we left untraced. The contrasting light and dark areas from the sun and shadows made it difficult to photograph at this particular time of day.


If you look closely at this Fremont trapezoidal figure you can see the faint remnants of paint that once decorated it. Off to the right is the infamous Kokopelli flute player.


This image made me think of the manner in which corn was grown by mounding up dirt around the stalk as the plant would increase in height.


A little further into the canyon from the mouth there is a large sandstone slope that on this day was being scaled by 3 lady rock climbers.


The geology of the San Rafael Swell causes a person to marvel at its uplifted folds of rock that pierce the sky with the same rugged beauty that is seen throughout the southwest. Yet, the Swell adds its own unique touch to the canvas.


Rockhounds are sure to enjoy scouting the area for colorful agates and geodes ranging from ping pong size to as big as baseballs. Even though this site is relatively close to the Interstate be sure to bring plenty of water in the event that something happens and you have to walk out. The prehistoric inhabitants of the area, without the aide of even a horse, were surely a hardy and tenacious group of people to eek out a living in such a place. The petroglyphs that they left behind in Three Finger Canyon are all we have left to show they were here. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.