Prickly Pear Panel

Round Trip Distance: 6.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 6279 - 6505 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Box Flat Road
Fee: none
Attractions: Rock art

The Prickly Pear Panel is located a few miles south of the Green River Cutoff Road in the Prickly Pear Flat area of the San Rafael Swell between Green River and Castle Dale, Utah. The site is accessed via a road that starts out being suitable for 2wd vehicles but becomes progressively more rough until it requires a high clearance 4wd to continue. For this post we drove for just under 1 mile after turning off of the Box Flat Road before we started hiking. The hiking portion ended up being an easy going 6.7 miles round trip. At present suitable motorized vehicles, like dirt bikes and ATVs, can continue all the way to the Prickly Pear Panel but only hikers and maybe horseback riders would be able to take the return route that we followed.

The Green River Cutoff Road begins on the west side of Highway 6/191 at the 17.1 mile point from Interstate 70 west of Green River, Utah. From there the cutoff road stretches for 44 miles before connecting to Highway 10 at Castle Dale.

The Box Flat Road, aka BLM 410, begins on the south side of the Green River Cutoff Road at the 20 mile point from UT-191 or the 23 mile point from Castle Dale.

Follow the typically well maintained Box Flat Road for 2.8 miles and turn right after crossing a cattleguard.

Stay to the right at the first major fork that comes up and continue for as far as you feel comfortable driving before parking and beginning to hike. Presently someone in a jeep or ATV may be able to drive the entire distance to the main rock art site. We parked our Toyota Tundra off to the side on some slickrock where the road crosses a wash and gets quite a bit rougher. We probably could have driven further but it was a beautiful day for a hike.

From there the road climbs steadily for another half mile or so before dropping off the hill and leveling off a bit. Off to the left at this point is a dry hole marker that is all that is left from an old drill site. For this post we started a loop by continuing to follow the road the long way around to the rock art site where we crossed the hill and returned through a nearby wash to this spot.

Route finding can be a little confusing at times when well worn roads come up sometimes branching off to the left while others branch off to the right. At one such spot where both routes look equally worn the actual route can be determined by looking ahead to the right for a brown carbonite post that marks the boundary of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness Study Area. From there the trail works its way around until it reaches its westernmost point where there is a scenic view of Calf Canyon. From there the road turns more to the south traveling in and out of the shallow wash as it goes.

A little before the trail reaches the rock art site it passes the double alcove of Prickly Pear Flats Arch. The alcoves show signs of ancient habitation with their soot stained roofs and a metate ground into a large boulder.

The pole fence around the rock art area can be seen from a considerable distance. It was that fence that was put up to keep livestock from rubbing up against the rock art that led us to this site. We had read about a Calf Canyon hike in the guide book 'Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell' by Kelsey where he mentioned climbing out of Calf Canyon and hiking to a rock art site. When we zoomed in on the satellite view of Google Maps we could see the log fence. After that we simply traced the 4wd roads, exported the track to a GPX file, and printed out the resulting maps to take with us. Kelsey refers to the site as the 'Calf Canyon Paintings' following what seems to be his normal naming convention for sites where a more official name isn't well known. Since the nearby arch and the flats are named Prickly Pear we gave the rock art site the same name until we find out otherwise.

The rock art is of the typical Barrier Canyon Style that is found elsewhere in the San Rafael Swell and adjoining areas. The image in the middle with the 2 white circles brings to mind Spotted Wolf Canyon where Interstate 70 passes through the reef as it resembles either a large dog or wolf and has a couple of spots. Look closely and you will see that it also has a snake for a tongue.

The central anthropomorphic figure is also holding a snake while to the right there is a flute player. Perhaps the images relate to a ceremony that was performed during a celebrated event that was held at this site.

The sloping slickrock to the left of the main panel is covered with moccasin tracks and at least one bare foot petroglyph as well as a number of sharpening grooves.

Stretched out along the cliff are even more images.

This particular panel has many unique characteristics. The message it was meant to convey seems like it should be so simple to understand but alas without the same understanding of their ancient beliefs and symbolism it completely escapes the modern mind.

Our map showed a geocache in a wash just to the east of the rock art site. Sometimes geocaches are placed in the vicinity of something worth seeing but on the map the wash looked like it would make a good shortcut. Just to the south of the rock art we found an old trail that turned what we thought was going to be a slickrock scramble into a simple walk up to the top of the cliff.

Once on top there are several routes to choose from but we followed what looked like the most direct approach that led toward the head of the wash. Once in the wash route finding is very easy whether you prefer the sandy bottom of the wash or any of the side trails along either bank.

There may have been some rock art that we missed while heading down the wash but there was no missing these petroglyphs that are beneath an overhang in a spot where hikers will pass by only a few feet away.

Hiking down the wash cuts right at 1.5 miles off of the round trip distance. We had originally considered hiking up the wash but thought it might be harder to find the best spot to go over the cliff so the safer bet was to follow the road. If we wouldn't have had topo maps with the correct route marked on them and our GPS we may have been unsuccessful or had to do a lot of extra hiking. Even though we didn't follow Kelsey's route we still managed to find what we were looking for and we still have his Calf Canyon hike to look forward to. For most of the hikes in the San Rafael Swell there probably is no such thing as too much information. As far as the Prickly Pear Flat Panel goes, if you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.