One of my favorite stops in the San Rafael Swell is the Snake Petroglyphs, other nearby Petroglyphs, Pictographs and dinosaur tracks are only a few of the awesome things to see here.
Buried in Stone
The San Rafael Swell is a kaleidoscope of colors splashed across a rugged landscape of cliffs, canyons, arches and pinnacles. Erosion sculpts the stone, but the environment in which it was deposited determines its color. In general, the brighter colors, red, yellow, and orange, are present in rocks deposited where oxygen was present. Examples of these environments are sand dunes and floodplain material higher then the water table. The duller colors, gray, light green, and purple, are present in rocks where there was no oxygen as they were deposited. These would be formed at the bottom of an inland sea or below a water table. These boggy places also trapped the bodies of dinosaurs ad preserved their bones as fossils. The Cleavland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry to the north of here has yielded hundreds of dinosaur fossils. This world famous quarry has produced more dinosaur mounts for display in museums then any other in the world, all thanks to the amazing fosilization of these once boggy areas now in front of you and all around you, take a minute to look at how different this place once was.
As you stand here look around, the magnificent cliffs, canyons, knobs, and spires before you are mostly cut from the 190 million-year-old Navajo Sandstone formation. Imagine the winds that carried sand to this area and deposited it in sand dunes hundreds of feet high. As wind shifted the massive sand dunes, the sands were deposited in a whirl of layers. Buried over eons of geologic time, the sands ceased their movement and turned to stone. Water releases the grains of sand from the grip of stone. Even here in an arid climate, water is the prime agent sculpting the stone into canyons, arches, and pinnacles. You are near the center of the great anticline that is the San Rafael Swell. Here, the layers are nearly flat-lying. It is like a stone dome with the curved top worn away. Soon the layers will begin tilting gently to the west.
There is a prominent peak in the area called The Wickiup. It stands alone, with layers of color all the way up the cone. You can see it from I-70, and there are two trails that make a loop around it. Combine this trail with Road Hollow and you have a nice loop with The Wickiup in the center.(*)
Standing here you are standing on a limestone layer of the Carmel formation, which formed in an ancient inland sea. The is was sea that covered the giant sand dunes that eventually turned to massive deposits of Navajo Sandstone. The formation is prevalent across the Colorado Plateau. Here at the San Rafael Swell, erosion has cut the Navajo Sandstone into great white monoliths, knobs, and canyons bearing names such as Ghost Rock, Locomotive Point, Joe and his Dog, Eagle Canyon, and Temple Mountain. A good eye can see how the rock layers dip slightly to the west. Eventually the monoliths will become knobs, the knobs will become mounds, and the mounds will succomb to erosion and disappear. The great cliff you now stand atop will also be worn away a grain at a time and “the hills will be made low.”