Handprints, horned animals, hunters and a Kokopelli playing a flute are some of the extraordinary petroglyphs on display at Sand Island, a significant and easily accessible archaeological site located just outside of Bluff, Utah. If you are interested in learning about the past, and want to see petroglyphs while you are visiting Utah, this is one area that is not to be missed.
The Sand Island panel is an impressive rock wall that stretches more than 100 yards, and is covered with ancient Anasazi scrawlings estimated to be anywhere from 800 to 2,500 years old. It sits just above the Sand Island Campground, a well-marked BLM site on the banks of the San Juan River just southwest of Bluff. (The campground is a major launching spot for rafting trips). The panel is protected by a fence and is accessed by a short, quarter-or-so mile trail.
When you study the panel up close (making sure you look, but don’t touch) you’ll find images that span nearly the whole time humans were known to inhabit the Four Corners — Anasazi markings from the early Basketmaker period through the Pueblo III period, and, more recently, records from Ute and Navajo people. Etched onto the rock are geometric patterns and shapes, human figures, several types of animals and numerous Kokopellis — the icons of rock art. Based on the sheer number and variety of petroglyphs, experts believe this panel held special significance among ancient people.
Needless to say, it provides a great overview of the type of art that can be found along the ruin-rich San Juan River.
While the panel is extensive enough to be a destination on its own, it also comes with the added benefit of being located in a scenic campground, which makes it a logical stop on an archeological tour of Utah. For those in a hurry, though, Sand Island is a perfect spot for a quick tutorial in the ancient history of the Four Corners. Many of the archaeological sites in the San Juan River corridor and Cedar Mesa are remote and difficult to reach, but Sand Island is easily accessible and convenient if you are looking for a quick stop while driving through. The panel is available for viewing year-round.
GPS Coordinates: 37.25, -109.56