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This year when my parents came to visit, we kind of kept up the theme of visiting ruins and rock art. Last year we saw Butler Wash and House on Fire, this year we visited the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff before seeing tons more in Moab.
This is about a mile section (just under) along the San Juan River with petroglyphs from four or five different groups: Archaic, Ancestral Puebloan, Navajo, Ute, and possibly Clovis.
How to get to the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff
About four miles outside of Bluff, towards Monument Valley, you’ll find the Sand Island Recreation area. Turn into that and go left towards loop A of the campground. Just past the ranger station, you’ll want to park.
There is a bathroom here, just make sure you’re not in a campsite parking area. It is free to visit the petroglyphs. On your way in there is a sign for the Sand Island Petroglyphs, don’t go to that. At least not yet. These are the other way.
Once you’re parked, head into the camping area and you’ll find a little trail going back between a cliff wall and the San Juan River. Once you’re on the trail, just keep left and keep your eyes peeled!
This is a nice easy walk on a dirt trail. There are occasional loops off to the left closer to the wall but they all meet back up with the main trail. Eventually there is a fence to keep people a little farther away from the petroglyphs. Most of them are 30-40 feet off the ground, so make sure you’re looking up.
The panel right by the far end of the fence is my favorite. It’s in the first picture below. The lady holding the goat is the best. It’s so cool walking along the trail and spotting a new one somewhere between the leaves or in the shadows. Some are very easy to see and others are a lot more difficult, so you have to pay close attention.
You’ll find the usual sheep and horses, but you can also find dancing Kokopelli’s, the lady holding the goat, bear paws (or what look like bear paws), people dancing, skinny guys, almost robot looking guys, and so much more.
The two very modern looking faces (to the right of goat lady) are Navajo. We were curious about that the most since we’ve never seen anything like that before. It was probably my second favorite one that day.
Once you get to the end of the official trail, there is a canyon to your left that could be cool to explore a little more if you’ve got some spare time. I didn’t go very far into it, but it looks cool and I totally would if I go back. It’s a little grassy though. This was a really nice hike and not busy at all. We only saw one other person the whole time.
Once you’re done at the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs, stop by the Sand Island Petroglyphs that you saw the sign for on your way in. Or you could do it the opposite way.
I think the main one would be more impressive before seeing all the upper petroglyphs. The main one is still impressive, don’t get me wrong. It’s a huge panel, like an entire wall full of petroglyphs. It reminded me of a darker Newspaper Rock.
Overall, I would definitely recommend stopping here if you’re in the area. It’s the perfect way to break up the drive between Moab and Monument Valley. You don’t need to spend a night in Bluff for it, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea if you like ruins and rock art because there is quite a bit of it near Bluff.
Books to read before visiting the Four Corners:
- The Bears Ears
- In Search of the Old Ones
- The Lost World of the Old Ones
- House of Rain
- Finders Keepers
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Hayduke Lives
- Desert Solitaire
Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:
- Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
- If you find artifacts, do not take them. Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
- If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can. Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter. Mesa Verde, Edge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
- And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks! I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to for real.
How long is the Upper Sand Island Petroglyph trail?
The Upper Sand Island petroglyph trail in Bluff is just 1.2 miles round-trip, so it’s nice and short. The walk to the main Sand Island Petroglyphs is super short and won’t add much to the whole thing.
Is the Upper Sand Island Petroglyph trail hard?
Not at all! It has just 19 feet of elevation gain which is more like a Florida hike than a Utah one! This is a super easy hike and you’ll probably only need 1-1.5 hours for the whole thing, and that’s taking your time to really look at all of them.
Is the Upper Sand Island Petroglyph Trail worth it?
Yes! Since it’s such an easy trail, it’s definitely worth doing, especially if you have a little spare time passing through or if you’re spending the night in Bluff.
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Have you seen the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs? What are your favorite petroglyphs in the area?