Shay Canyon Petroglyphs

Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5865 - 5975 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Highway 211 MM 4.75
Fee: none
Attractions: petroglyphs

Located in the Indian Creek Recreation Area along Highway 211, on the way to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, is the famous Newspaper Rock petroglyphs site. Stretched out along Indian Creek for the next several miles past the Newspaper Rock site are four more petroglyph sites that are well worth investigating. We have numbered 3 of them as Sites #1,#2 and #3. The fourth site is more commonly known as Shay Canyon and is covered in this post.

To get there either drive south for 40 miles from Moab or north for 14 miles from Monticello on US Highway 191 and turn west on US Highway 211. Continue along Highway 211 for 12 miles to the Newspaper Rock Site where there is a restroom. From Newspaper Rock keep driving toward the Needles District of Canyonland National Park for another 1.9 miles where there is a pullout on the west side of the highway.

The trail begins at the south end of the pullout where it descends from the highway and crosses the creek.

There is a trail marker after crossing the creek at the mouth of Shay Canyon. From there follow the wash for 1 or 2 hundred feet where you can pick up one of the trails that leaves the wash on the right. All along the base of the cliffs on the right you will find hundreds upon hundreds of petroglyphs stretched out for over a quarter mile.

The trail climbs up to the point of the cliff and then splits with one branch traveling along the base of the cliffs that are facing east toward Indian Creek and the other branch traveling along the cliffs that are facing Shay Canyon. There is one panel of petroglyphs on the east facing cliffs about 20 or 30 feet from the point of the cliff. The trail keeps going after it passes that panel. We followed it for a couple hundred yards without seeing anymore petroglyphs. The trail eventually deteriorated so we retraced our steps back to the point.

As the trail goes along the base of the cliff in Shay Canyon it becomes almost a solid line of petroglyphs that last for about a quarter mile. When we took the pictures for this post the cliff was receiving full sun and it was hard to photograph the images even using a polarized lens. We outlined the images in this panel on our computer. If you look closely you should be able to see a flute player that is next to a line of dancers. Flute players that look similar to Kokopelli, without the hunched back or knapsack, are a common theme in Shay Canyon.

We traced part of the next panel on the computer also. It consists of straight lines and wavy lines that stretch across the cliff like a story board or sheet of music. There is another flute player and lots and lots of bighorn sheep. Several of them look like they are dancing to the flute players music. Some of the sheep have horizontal lines across their bodies and some have vertical lines. The panel continues for at least another 20 feet to the left on down the face of the cliff.

There is an image of a bear that has lost a lot of definition. When you zoom in on it the head looks like it was an accurate depiction at one time.

More flute players and another dancer.

These figures are different than the rest. The one on the right looks like it has wings.

It seems they left no good place to put an image untouched whether it was along the base of the cliff or up high at a place that they could climb up to. The petroglyphs finally come to an end just before the trail reaches a tall free standing pinnacle. At this point the trail returns to the wash down a series of short switchbacks. You can continue hiking a little ways up Shay Canyon if you feel a need. We don't know of anything all that interesting up that way.

Shay Canyon appears to have been a real party or ceremonial place judging from all of the flute players and dancers. We wondered if the pinnacle may have represented a phallic symbol and have been an added reason they picked this location. There is at least one image of a pregnant woman on one of the panels. The petroglyphs in Shay Canyon look older than most of the images at the nearby Newspaper Rock Site. It appears that the Indian Creek area was inhabited at least periodically all the way back through the archaic period. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.