In a word: The Parowan Gap, in Utah, has numerous Native American rock drawings, as well as fossilized dinosaur footprints. It’s free and lies about halfway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.


More words: At first, the dinosaur tracks were invisible.

We had just driven about three hours, and were standing below a red cliff. The air was perfectly still. A lizard sat alert, staring at us as we walked the trail.


At intervals, oxidized metal markers in the shape of dinosaur footprints stuck up from the dust, but as we wandered all we saw were ordinary boulders that had toppled from the cliffs above.

And then it clicked, like one of those magic eye images: A huge, three-toed footprint practically jumped out from the rock. We quickly ran back to other markers and realized our mistake: The footprints weren’t impressions, they were protrusions of rock formed eons ago when sediment filled the footprint of a dinosaur.

A fossilized dinosaur footprint near the Parowan Gap.

A post shared by Jim Dalrymple II (@jimdalrympleii) on

Evidently, the tracks were left by ornithopods, ceratopsians and theropods — so, creatures like triceratops. We spent some time exploring and trying to spot the biggest tracks, then hopped back in the car for the five minute drive to the Parowan Gap.

The petroglyphs were easier to spot.

From the small parking lot, a path led us to a pile of boulders and sloping cliffs covered in dark desert varnish. Etched into the stone were human figures, animals, and geometric designs (click to enlarge).

The petroglyphs — which differ from painted-on pictographs — were left by Native Americans traveling in the region. Their exact meaning is still debated. However, according to plaques at the scene the Hopi migrated through the Parowan Gap to what they believed was the spiritual center of the earth. The petroglyphs “testify to the fulfillment of their covenant with” the Earth Guardian.

Some of the markings also were apparently left by Piautes, and some researchers believe they record that people’s astronomical knowledge.

The first of the petroglyphs were fenced off, but as we wandered through the gap we discovered that they adorned many boulders that were lying casually beside the road. We could walk up to them and feel the indentations in the stone.

I was also surprised to discover more recent, but still old, markings:


Near the west side of the gap, one stone had been marked by early Mormons in the late 1880s. The markings also seemed to indicate that someone died there in 1939, though there was no information about that person on the nearby plaques.

As we explored the markings, both ancient and old, a billowing thunderhead began rolling across the sky. So finally, before the storm blew in, we took one last look at the markings then hit the road.

If you go: There are signs and small parking lots marking the sites of both the petroglyphs and the dinosaur tracks. The petroglyph site also has pit toilets. The tracks and petroglyphs will be difficult to see at night, so make sure you’re there during daylight. Here is a map:


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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