historic moment has transpired in art history books of America.
The famous and iconic Holy Ghost rock art panel from Canyonlands
National Park is being presented for the first time this
year in major college-level textbooks as great, world-class
art in league with the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux,
France and rock art of Australia.
The Canyonlands panel, part of The Great
Galley in the Horsehoe Canyon detached unit of the park near
the Maze District, is one of a group of panels including some
200 figures -- most painted in a blood-red hue and spanning
an alcove wall more than 100 feet long. They range in size
from half-an-inch to eight feet tall, created by Archaic hunter-gatherer
societies around 2,000-3,000 BC (some say possibly 8,000 years
camp near a rock art site or build
a fire beneath a rock art panel.
artifacts, rocks and vegetation exactly
where you find them at rock art sites.
dig when at a site or touch petroglyphs
you see someone digging or chiseling at
a rock art site, do not attempt to confront
them or stop them, as they may be armed.
Get their license plate number and call law
information about rock art in Utah visit
The Holy Ghost image is one of two examples
of Utah rock art included in a standard textbook used to
teach freshman art history at colleges nationwide -- Marilyn
Stokstad’s “Art History.” The main version,
a huge 8-pound volume of 1,296 pages, also contains the world-renowned
Nine-Mile Canyon Hunting Scene (from an area near Price)
among its 1,300 illustrations.
Aside from the significance of the local works of ancient
American Indians achieving world-class status as sophisticated
artists of the world, publication in the instructional textbook
portends an “exponentially expanding awareness of Utah
rock art to an ever-growing audience,” said James Farmer,
chairman of the Department of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth
“Another, more obvious effect, is potential increase
in site visitation -- perhaps not immediately, but noticeably
-- over the next several years,” Farmer told a gathering
in Moab of local rock-art enthusiasts and members of the
Utah Rock Art Association.
“It’s clearly too soon to tell how truly significant
this is, but we can speculate on the implications,“ he
warned. Farmer was able to determine that over the past 10
years, about 11,000 people per year have visited the Horseshoe
Canyon Annex about 40 miles from Green River, presumably
all of them making the 6 ½-mile round-trip trek 750
feet deep into the canyon to see The Great Gallery.
Anticipated sales of the book this year are expected to top
50,000 copies, Farmer said. About 13,000 copies of a shorter
volume, which also contains the Holy Ghost panel but not
the Nine-Mile Hunting Scene, are expected to be distributed
-- all to students only, “meaning that some 63,000
college students will be presented with images of Utah rock
art as examples of truly great world art,” Farmer said.
In his 15 years teaching art history in Virginia, the associate
professor said only one of his students had heard of Barrier
Canyon-style anthropomorphic rock art, despite numerous books
and articles in national publications over the years since
the Horseshoe unit was set aside by the National Park Service
Now, with exposure of the images to more than 63,000 college
students each year, Farmer warns of the potential impending
crush of visitors to the canyon and other sensitive rock
art sites throughout Utah.
“I can assure you that 60,000 of those 63,000 students
will immediately forget the images and never think of Utah
rock art again,” he said, “but if only 1,000
of these students are impressed enough to pursue further
study or to actually visit Horseshoe Canyon, I think that
is a potentially significant increase over what would otherwise
And, he warned , the process will repeat itself each subsequent
Park officials and other federal land management agencies
will be grappling with a greater challenge in balancing public
access with protection of rock art. In some places, such
as the Barrier Canyon-style panels in Buckhorn Wash, log
barricades were put up to restrict direct access. At the
Great Gallery, the NPS installed a fence to keep people from
climbing too close to and touching the pictographs and petroglyphs.
Will the masses come? Will it lead to drastic measures like
installation of a protective shield of plexiglass in front
of the panels, similar to what happened in the Valley of
Fire State Park near Las Vegas?
Farmer noted that the Lascaux Cave, with its paintings of
large game animals like bison and horses, was closed to the
public in the 1960s and since 1983, visitors are treated
only to a full-scale replica of the cave and paintings just
down the road. He observed that at Stonehenge, visitors view
the structure from afar. He asked if, as with the Mona Lisa,
behind its airtight, bullet-proof glass and restraining railing
cord, flash photography is discouraged at The Great Gallery
now -- but will all photography ultimately be restricted
or allowed only with a permit and fee?
Farmer said to see “The Last Supper” by Leonardo
daVinci in Italy requires reservations months in advance
for a 15-minute viewing, for a fee that is not refundable
if you are late. While the Vatican Museum has yet to limit
visitors to see Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine
Chapel, it is a long wait with countless other visitors who
press shoulder-to-shoulder once inside, straining to see
the ceiling in a dark, hot, uncomfortable and hushed chapel,
“I find it hard to imagine The Great Galley ever being
so popular, but who knows?” Farmer asked.
At this time, the arduous hike in to see the Holy Ghost panel
is self-limiting for many, but Farmer wonders to what extent
the government might go to accommodate public demand.
He is disturbed by the Peruvian government’s proposal
to install trams on the Andes mountains and set the price
of admission at $100 for foreign visitors in efforts to address
the explosion in visitation to the Machu Pichu ruins over
the past decade.
“Will we ever need such entry fees or shuttles to The
Great Gallery?” he asks. “The Great Gallery and
Utah rock art have now officially entered the arena of real
art history, and I’m glad, because I think the styles
deserve recognition…but of course, this also brings
new obligations and challenges as well. But I suggest you
all go see it while it looks the way it does.”