A Wise Old Owl

February 6, 2013 ·

Miles Hecker

A wise old owl sat on an oak;

The more he saw the less he spoke;

The less he spoke the more he heard;

Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?

~Charles M Schulz

Approximately one million people annually come to the Moab area of Utah to visit Arches National Park. About half that number spend another day and experience the nearby Islands in the Sky Area of Canyonlands National Park. The most appealing feature of both these areas is that they offer a wonderful southwestern desert experience with the main attractions being within several hundred yards of a parking area.

Lair of the Owl

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Owl and Friends

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Appealing as these areas may be, they offer little in the way of the desert solitude made famous by Edward Abbey in his famous bookDesert Solitaire. “Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear- the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break… I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.”

Hidden not far from downtown Moab are many places where the rocks are quite real. Not only that, they still hold a story, told by men who have come and gone. Kane Creek is one of these places. How do I know this? I learned about it from a wise old bird.

If you follow Kane Creek Blvd South out of Moab, it initially follows the Colorado River. At a point about five miles from town it turns left, turns to dirt and becomes Kane Springs Road. This road is the main access road for mountain bikers and 4-wheelers who want to visit the area called Behind The Rocks. It is seldom visited by the casual tourist and holds some secrets that few visitors get to see.

Rock art is a term used in archaeology for man-made markings that were made on natural stone. Two types of rock art are petroglyphs and pictographs. Petroglyphs are markings that were carved into the stone surfaces. Scratching, abrading, pecking, carving, drilling, incising and sculpting are all ways of removing the rock surface. Pictographs are rock and cave paintings. Treat rock art as you would a picture in your house or in a gallery. It is protected by the Archaeological resources Protection Act of 1979 and the Antiquities Act of 1906.  

You can pull off the road on the right about 1 mile after you start up Kane Springs Road. This small parking lot is the beginning of the Amasa Back Bike Trail. If you look up at the sandstone monolith across the creek, you can see a large alcove about half way up it that looks like an eye. It is home to one of the deserts many secrets, the “Owl Panel”.

Desert Sheep

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Birthing Panel

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If you are adventurous and can find the way, the secret will reveal itself. I suggest hiking with a partner. A silly error and a broken ankle could prove to be quite disastrous if you are alone. No rock climbing is needed to get there, careful route finding is the key. If you persist and make it, you will share a vision with those that lived here in millennia past.

An easier to get to secret of the desert can be found about 300 yards up the road from where you parked. Just off the road on the right hand side is a large rock. It contains an example of rock art called “The Birthing Panel”. The obvious figure on the left seems to be giving birth. A shaman like larger figure on the right seems to be supervising the effort. While not as exquisite as the Owl Panel, it tells a different story

Certain rock art seems to have been mostly decorative in nature, this includes crosses, rectangles, circles, spirals, and other designs. Other rock art could actually be a form of picture writing. As the drawings do not present a written language as we know it, their meaning is left to our imaginations. When viewing rock art it is important to keep in mind that the real importance is not found in literal meaning, but that we are looking at records left by the areas inhabitants who have gone before. To find out more about photo opportunities in the Moab area check out thislink.


About Miles Hecker

Miles has been involved with photography for over forty years. He teaches digital photography at Casper College in Casper, WY. His photos have won awards fromNatures Best magazine,Photo.net, The Luminous LandscapeandWyoming WIldlife . Miles’ photos have been published in American Vignette, Backpacker Magazine, Natures Best Images, Popular Photography, Wyoming Audubon, and Wyoming Wildlife. He is co-founder ofWyofoto LLC


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