The Fremont People lived in what is now Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Nevada for roughly the 1,000 years from 300 to 1,300. Unlike their contemporaries and neighbors, the Ancestral Puebloans in the Four Corners region (and later along the Rio Grande), the Fremont did not build permanent architecture like pueblos and cliff dwellings. Their villages were more ephemeral, and much of what we know about them comes from the tools and the art they left behind. The art, in the form of striking pictographs and petroglyphs, is often sublime.
On Friday, September 3 (2021), we knew that, one way or another, we’d have to be leaving Dinosaur National Monument early. But we didn’t want to go without seeing the grand Fremont petroglyphs near the campground.
I woke up about a quarter after seven and began what would be a three-hour epic of phone calls and frustrating websites to figure out what to do about the crack in our windshield.
It was a beautiful morning for frustration!
We had breakfast skillet with avocado to fuel the flurry of phone calls.
The crack was only growing, and it was extending across the driver’s side field of vision. We were loathe to drive all the way back from Jensen, Utah to Chicago with a growing crack.
It was Friday morning of Labor Day Weekend. Our plan had been to stay one more night at Dinosaur and then on Saturday drive to Denver, where we had a hotel reservation at the Kimpton Hotel Born. Then on Sunday, we’d do the sprint from Denver back to Chicago (or if we got tired, stop somewhere in Iowa for the night and arrive home on Labor Day).
Figuring this all out with relatively spotty phone service was even more frustrating.
There were two big wrinkles in the situation: one was that we needed to go to a shop with a particular certification because of the adaptive camera features of the Crosstrek; the other was timing. We were moving into Labor Day Weekend and places would be closed.
After many phone calls, it came down to three options: Stay in Utah and snag a 3pm appointment for Saturday afternoon at a Safelite Auto Glass in Vernal. Stay in Utah and do a drop-in service Saturday morning at the Safelite. This at least gave us the potential to be done early in the day to be able to drive to Denver. But there was no guarantee that we would actually be done any sooner than the late afternoon appointment. Or we could strike camp and head to Denver Friday afternoon and do a drop-in at a suburban Safelite the next morning.
We decided that we’d rather end up stranded in Denver than in Vernal, Utah. We had friends in Denver. And we could also drop off the car in the morning and then go do stuff rather than just sit around and wait. Plus if we did actually get stranded through the weekend, we’d rather be in Denver
We called the Born to see if we could extend our Saturday night stay to include Friday night too. Affirmative. We’d have a place to stay when we rolled into Denver that evening.
It was 10:30 by the time everything was squared away with the car.
We decided to go and see if the unpaved portion of Cub Creek Road was open for one last adventure before we left Dinosaur. We really wanted to see the petroglyphs.
Happily, the dirt portion of the road was open that morning!
The first petroglyph site was a large panel just off the road. It was packed with human and animal figures and geometric shapes.
Just as the Ancestral Puebloans did not vanish (despite that narrative holding sway for over a century), the Fremont people also didn’t vanish from the face of the Earth. But we don’t really know what happened to them, only that their distinctive cultural artifacts end in the architectural record roughly the same time as the depopulation of the Four Corners and the rise of the Ancestral Utes, who would come to inhabit Utah and Colorado.
We continued on around the corner and pulled into the dirt parking area for the larger collection of petroglyphs.
These petroglyphs are arrayed along an east/southeast-facing wall with a rich layer of desert varnish.
Although animals figure widely into Fremont petroglyphs, depictions of lizards are rare. At this site there are at least eleven lizards, some small and some truly monumental. We were able to spot nine of the eleven.
We were so absorbed with the petroglyphs that we almost didn’t notice how high we’d already hiked.
This is what the lizards have been looking at…for 1,000 years.
In addition to the lizards, human figures, faces, masks at this site, there is also a flute player, known as Kokopelli, a figure that first appeared on Hohokam pottery in the eighth century.
Some of the faces peering from the rock are difficult to see, and then are startling when they resolve into view.
The maintained path all but ends, but we were able to keep going higher around the ridge.
Up beyond the Fremont petroglyphs was a graffito of a horse in the style of, well, middle school girl?
The footpath topped out a the end of the ridge with a huge view of Split Mountain to the west. It was well worth walking up to see it.
On the way back down, we spotted even more petroglyphs that we’d not spotted on the way up.
We hopped back in the car to continue our drive out to the end of Cub Creek Road.
Not far beyond the main collection of Petroglyphs, the road guide helped us spot a few more petroglyphs right along the road above a dry wash.
Deeply moved by the petroglyphs, we decided to do one final short hike in Dinosaur before starting the long journey home.