Canyon Pintado Rock Art Tour on Colorado Highway 139
This Canyon Pintado Rock Art Guide provides information on the Canyon Pintado National Historic District for travelers seeking adventure and a glimpse into Native American cultures dating back over 1,000 years. We were astounded by the quality of the rock art and beauty of the canyon. Canyon Pintado is the perfect place to stretch your legs while traveling to or from Dinosaur National Monument along the Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway.
The driving directions in this guide go from north (out of Rangely, CO) to south (towards Douglas Pass, Fruita and Grand Junction). Below are some of the main sites located along Highway 139. However, there are thousands of sites in the immediate area, including numerous sites on County Road 23 and County Road 65.
PLEASE RESPECT THE FREMONT AND UTE ROCK ART. Don’t touch the pictographs or petroglyphs or the rock they’re on. The oils from your hands will expedite the deterioration of the rock or worse. This is a special site that cannot be replaced.
Canyon Pintado Rock Art Guide
1. Camel Ridge Site (mile marker 70.5)
Get off the road on your right side. Approximately 250 yards away from the parking area, look towards the north-facing cliffs just above the road. You can walk up to the panel that contains a camel-like figure and a handful of other figures and shapes. There is a second rock art site on the east-facing cliff that you’ll want to visit too.
2. Lookout Point Site (mile marker 67.6)
This point was potentially a watchtower. It is located on the ridge line north of the pullout. There are many of these sites in the valley, all within eyesight of one another. They may have served as part of a warning system.
3. East Four-Mile Site – Sun Dagger (mile marker 61.3)
This is probably the best site in the area – especially the Sun Dagger Pictograph panel. You’ll find a large parking lot, and you’ll have to hike a short way to all of the sites. Park your car in the lot on the east (left) side of the highway. This area has numerous, extensive rock art panels and a pioneer line shack. The panels in this area are primarily Fremont. The Sun Dagger panel is the furthest panel to the east. There are other extensive panels on the loop trail that takes you back to the parking area.
4. State Bridge Site (mile marker 59.7)
You can see the location of this site from the highway. Rock art, including deer trails and other figures, are located on the west and south faces of the cliff band above.
5. Cow Canyon Site (mile post 57.8)
Take a left off of Highway 139 and travel up Philadelphia Draw to the east. Travel up the draw for .2 miles. Take a right (south) and go another .8 miles. After you cross the second cattle guard, take a left (east) up a small draw. After another .1 miles turn and park. The rock art panels are about 250 feet above you to the left.
6. White Birds Site (mile marker 56.5)
About 120 yards about you on the right (west) there is a nice panel that contains white bird pictographs. It’s a steep hike to the site, but the view of the canyon and pictographs are worth the effort.
7. Canyon Pintado Site (mile marker 56.0)
This is probably the second most frequented Canyon Pintado rock art site in the area. The rock art site was first described during reports from the Escalante Expedition of 1776. The Kokopelli figure is certainly one of the highlights of the Canyon Pintado tour. There are a number of other intriguing figures, animals, and paintings at this site. The rock the Kokopelli is located on is anchored by bolts and a cable due to its deteriorated state. Please be especially careful when you approach this site so that you don’t disturb the sandstone.
8. Waving Hands Site (mile marker 53.5)
On the right (west) side of the road there is a small parking area. On the east-facing cliff is a dark red figure that waves to you and other Fremont rock art. Around the corner to the south is an overhang that has Ute figures, horses, arrows, and outlined hands.
About the Fremont Indians
The Fremont lived in this area from approximately 200 BC to about 1200 AD. During their earlier years, they lived in villages in pit houses. Towards the end of their known occupation, they constructed dwellings made of stone and mortar. They cultivated corn and vegetables and hunted deer, elk, and small mammals. They had a relatively sophisticated understanding of astronomy. The Fremont painted and carved strange carrot-shaped figures, Kokopelli figures, and rock art panels – such as the Sun Dagger site – that potentially have astronomical significance.
About the Ute
Following the Fremont, the Utes lived in the area until the 1880s. They were forcibly exiled to Utah after the Meeker Massacre. The Utes were hunters and gatherers, not farmers. Most Ute rock art sites in the area are associated with the horse and white explorers and settlers.