Aug 282014

Rock MapHave you used Google Maps lately?  How about AAA Triptiks.  Remember Rand-McNally?  Maps have been an essential part of the traveler’s gear for thousands of years.   We’ve all seen pictures of ancient maps used by mariners, but did you know that Native Americans also used maps?

Many of the hunter-gatherer cultures, like the Ute and their predecessors, were highly mobile, constantly moving to keep pace with plant and animal food sources.  They depended upon their knowledge of game trails, hunting strategies, and locations for seasonal plants. Carol Patterson wrote, “Powell, one of the first anthropologists to describe Ute life ways, went so far as to remark that:

 “It is curious to notice with what tenacity an Indian clings to a trail; a path which has been followed by his forefathers is sacred to him, and thoughPatterson and Duncan in the constant and rapid erosion of the gulches and sides of the hills and mountains these trails have become very difficult yet he never abandons them when they can by any possibility be followed, even though a shorter and better road is very perceptible (Fowler and Fowler 1971:39).”

 This quote, from a paper partially entitled “Ute Indian Rock Art Maps and Game Drives in Western Colorado” by Carol Patterson and Clifford Duncan points out how important the trails were.  In the trail guide for Shavano Valley Petroglyph Site, Patterson writes:

 “Sinauf [the creator wolf] made the trails from the mountain center of the earth to the edges where the earth meets the Sea that surrounds us.  He measured the earth so that it had the proper dimensions for the people to come.  The earth was created to “fit” the pattern that Mother earth thought into being.  Only Sinauf has the power to make the trails or measure the earth.  No mere man can presume to make trails, to measure the earth, or to cut up Her flesh.  To do so would be the direst sacrilege. (Duncan 2000, Goss 2003)

 “. . . The Utes traveled in a sun-wise direction (clockwise) oriented to the South.  Migrations seasonally followed this pattern and being on the move continually was their way of life.  Even today, a car trip to Walmart traditionally involves a clockwise course to and from the store completing a clockwise circuit.”

 In Shavano Valley Petroglyph Site, the story of Sinauf and the creation of the trails is beautifully illustrated in the rocks [refer to picture].  Patterson explains [watch video]:

 Sinauf makes the trails & Entry-Exit of Underworld“Sinauf is in his human form [at the top of the petroglyph].  The big hands have to do with creation (“make or do”).  But the line from his foot comes all the way down and then goes all the way back up and then up-and-down, up-and-down all the way back to him for that creation of the trails when the earth was new.  And that is a very old glyph.

There is talk in the literature about going into the underworld and coming out, and I see that a lot in the petroglyphs with a circle and a dot and the open circle, entrance, exit holes.

 “ … If you look close you can see spirit animals [to the left], see how the wavy lines go into the hole; here [to the right] it comes out, goes around, comes back in utilizing rock incorporation for these entrances and exits.  And Clifford [Duncan] told me stories of where people go after they die.  [He told me about] A man who lost his wife and really missed her and so Rabbit told him he would take him to the other world.  And they go deep into a canyon and find other people who have passed on.”

 So, the sacred trails of the Ute and their predecessors were preserved in stone!  On the cliff faces of Shavano Valley, in and near Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (GGNCA) and Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area (DENCA), the ancients pecked their maps into the patina of the rocks.  Patterson and Duncan took drawings of some of these “glyph maps” and overlayed them on topographical maps to show how the petroglyphs preserved the sacred trails.

Rock Map overlaying Uncompahgre PlateauRock Map overlaying Sage Grouse PlainAnd at Shavano Valley Petroglyph Site there is a different kind of map, almost like a silhouette of the area depicted.  One of the things that drew the Ute to Shavano Valley was a natural spring bubbling up from the ground.  Right above the spring, carved into the rock face is and long, wavy line and at one point a hole has been pecked out.  If you turn around and look at the ridge running in front of the cliff face, you can see that the wavy line represents the ridge and the hole represents the relative spot where the spring is.

Spring map glyph002Spring map pic

You can find Patterson’s very interesting paper, “Ute Indian Rock Art Maps and Game Drives in Western Colorado: A Preliminary Study of Ute Rock Art Maps in Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area”, on the internet at

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