Saturday, June 12, 2010


In far northwestern Colorado adjoining Dinosaur National Monument on the north side in Moffat County is an area known as Brown’s Park. Towards the eastern end of Brown’s Park, Vermillion Canyon runs from the north to the south to join up with the Green river. As a permanent source of water in a dry area Vermillion Creek must have served as a travel route for the Native American inhabitants of the area from the arid lands to the north to the more watered Brown’s Park. They left considerable rock art on the canyon walls along the creek, most of it traceable to the Fremont culture of Eastern Utah/Northwestern Colorado.

Water bug petroglyphs, probably Fremont,
Vermillion Canyon, Moffat County, CO.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1988.

The importance of this water source is suggested by the presence of a unique petroglyph found in the narrow reaches of the canyon. This image appears to present four insects above a zigzag horizontal line which is usually thought to represent water, and could be intended to represent Vermillion creek. The canyon in this area is deep and narrow with vertical cliffs, and on a searing hot summer day the bottom of the canyon is cool and comfortable.

So what would this grouping represent? While it is possible to stretch some of the traditional explanations of rock art such as sympathetic magic or shamanism to explain these that would be pretty much a modern intellectual construct. Within an animistic religious framework the spirits of the water bugs could well be thought to appeal to the Great Spirit to keep the cool water flowing for them. I prefer to think, however, that some Native American, probably from among the Fremont people, sitting in the cool shade by the streamside during a mid-summer hot spell, was amused by watching water bugs scooting around on the surface of Vermillion Creek, and decided to affectionately record the moment on the handy cliff face. Remember, not all meanings have to be big, important, and significant. Some rock art may have been done just for fun!

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