Horseshoe Canyon

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Holy ghost panel in Horseshoe Canyon, Utah

The ‘Holy Ghost’ panel.

Horseshoe Canyon has one of the finest and most well known rock art sites in North America. On a rock shelter wall at the bend in the canyon creek is the largest panel of the Barrier Canyon style rock paintings. The panel, over 60 metres long and about 4.6 metres high, has some 20 life-sized human-like images – the largest being over two metres in height. The site is 3 miles from the trailead, a perfect opportunity for a gentle hike. Besides this strikingly impressive panel, long since named the ‘Great Gallery’, there are a few other smaller rock shelters with rock art in the canyon.

Period: Archaic
Site: rock art

open-year-round 24-hours onsite-information picnic-area toilets no-dogs-allowed photographs-allowed parking difficult-terrain camping
Camping permitted and toilets at the trailhead only.

This particular style of rock art is found mainly in the south-east of Utah and into western Colorado, in the American southwest. Horseshoe Canyon was formerly known as Barrier Canyon, after the creek in the Canyon. And it was with the few sites in this canyon that this style of rock art was descried, with the figures painted in the ‘Great Gallery’ being the most typical. The human-like figures were painted using a dark red pigment. The bodies of the figures are tapered, lacking in legs and arms – although there are some known examples that do have arms. Some of the figures’ bodies are solid red, others have simple geometric designs, and a few even have animals painted in the body.

Dating of the Barrier Canyon style rock art has not been easy, and suggestions range from about 1,500 to 4,000 years ago. Clay figurines that look remarkably similar to the painted figures have been found in archaeological deposits that are thought to be 7,000 years old.

The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon

The so-called Great Gallery.

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