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Mountains of Stone

Winds of Change

Barrier - Horseshoe Canyon Indian Pictographs - Petroglyphs
O. Ned Eddins

Buckhorn Wash          Sego Canyon           

Out of the mid-Archaic Period, a group of Indians appeared in the Canyonlands area of Utah that are classified as Barrier Canyon Indians. Barrier Canyon style pictographs are found on the canyon walls of the northern Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah, western Colorado, and northern Arizona.  Classification of Barrier Indians is based on the pictographs and dated by clay figurines found in Cowboy Cave by Dr. Jesse Jennings of the University of Utah . Cowboy Cave is  in Barrier Canyon about eight miles beyond the Great Gallery. The clay figurines found in Cowboy Cave match the style of some Barrier Canyon painted images.

Barrier Canyon is in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. There are two  roads to Barrier Canyon; one from the town of Green River, Utah and the other one is across the highway from Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. On recent maps the name has been changed to Horseshoe Canyon.

                                                     Barrier Canyon Trailhead

                                                        Trail into Barrier Canyon

                                    Early Visitor - Three Toed Dinosaur

                                                April Rains in Barrier Canyon

 Unique to the Southwest, the Barrier Canyon rock art is regarded by many as finest rock art in the United States. The Great Gallery in Barrier Canyon is more than three-hundred feet wide with over sixty figures.

The Barrier Canyon, or Horseshoe Canyon, rock art style consists of larger-than-life-size anthropomorphic (manlike) figures. The identifying characteristics of these figures are vacant looking or missing eyes, the frequent absence of arms and legs, and the presence of vertical body markings (Horseshoe Canyon Archeology).

                                                   Barrier Canyon Great Gallery

 Archeologists speculate that the life-sized human-like figures (anthropomorphic images) were painted by different individuals across an extended period of time. Despite this several thousand year period, there are very few occurrences of images being painted over by other Indians. To me, this indicates the spiritual, or mystical, significance of these Prehistoric Indian sites to the Fremont, Anasazi, and the historic Indians that followed.  As far as that goes, anyone that visits these sites will feel an aura of the Great Mystery.

                                                       Barrier Canyon Holy Man 

                                                       Barrier Canyon Animals

 These mountain sheep and deer with the hunters carrying spears on the left end of the Great Gallery site were probably added at a much later date than the typical Barrier anthropomorphic figures.

The Great Gallery area has several distinct panels. Not all of the art panels are from the same time period. Horseshoe Shelter contains a mixture of Barrier, Anasazi, and Fremont rock area. 


Horseshoe shelter was under a huge rock alcove, much of which has broken off. Based on the rock art and other artifacts, this site was used as a shelter for thousands of years.

                                                  Horseshoe Shelter - Fremont

Buckhorn Wash

Barrier Canyon style rock art and Fremont petroglyphs panels are located in Buckhorn Wash east of Huntington, Utah.

                                                                 Buckhorn Wash

This panel in Buckhorn Wash was covered with bullet holes and initials. It was restored in 1996 by Emory County and the BLM.


                                                             Restored Panel

                                            Buckhorn Wash Cottonwoods

The most famous panel is the Buckhorn Wash Angel's panel.

                                                               Buckhorn Angels

                                                  Mexican Hat on the San Rafael River

The stream in Buckhorn Wash drains into the San Rafael river across from a rock formation called the Mexican Hat.

Sego Canyon

The Sego Canyon rock art site is at the end of an oiled road north of Thompson, Utah. This is an excellent site to see Barrier, Fremont, and historic Indian panels.

                                                         Barrier Canyon Style

                    Fremont petroglyphs imposed on older Barrier Canyon pictographs

                                               Sego Canyon Historic - ~ 1800's

Horses were brought to Mexico by Cortez in 1519, and onto the Great Plains by Coronado in 1540. It is doubtful if horses reached the Canyonlands area before the late 1700's. The first known horses in this area were with Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776.

The Barrier Canyon article was written by O. Ned Eddins of Afton, Wyoming. Permission is given for material from this site to be used for school research papers.

Citation: Eddins, Ned. (article name) Afton, Wyoming. 2002.

Related Articles: Fremont Indians    Fremont Rock Art   Anasazi   Mesa Verde   Cedar Mesa-Grand Gulch     Buckhorn Wash     Sego Canyon      Prehistoric Indians      Hovenweep     Monument Valley


Barnes, F. A and Pendleton, Michaelene. Canyon country prehistoric rock art: An illustrated guide to viewing, understanding and appreciating the rock art of the prehistoric Indian cultures of Utah, the Great Basin and the general Four Corners region. Wasatch Publishers, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1989.

 Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton, New York, N.Y. 1996.

Dillehay, Thomas D. The Settlement of the Americas. Basic Books, New York, NY. 2000.

Koppel, Tom. Did They Come By Sea? American Archeology Magazine, Spring. 2002.

Madsen, David B.. Exploring the Fremont. Utah Museum of Natural History/University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1989.

Schaafsma, Polly. The Rock Art of Utah. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. 2004.

Stone, Tammy. The Prehistory of Colorado and Adjacent Areas.  University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah. 1999.

Taylor, Allan. American Colonies: The settling of North America. Penguin Books. New York, NY. 2002.  

Internet Sources:

Archeology of Horseshoe Canyon