Petroglyphs & Palisades
Sego Canyon is a unique place that even many Utahans don’t know about. The canyon boasts a dramatic setting that’s historically significant. Much of the area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s a lot of rock art in eastern and southern Utah, but these petroglyphs can be hard to reach. Yet, just five miles north of the freeway is Sego Canyon’s most remarkable feature: a sandstone wall with three culturally distinct styles of rock art. The Barrier Canyon petroglyphs are the oldest and most impressive. They date back 1500 to 4000 years, possibly even longer. And you won’t be the first to wonder if these colorful paintings depict visitors from outer space. The Fremont people created another grouping of petroglyphs 700 to 1500 years ago. And the Ute Indian artwork is the most recent, at 140 to 700 years old. Sadly, though protected by law, some of the rock art has been defaced by vandals. Further up the gravel road, more palisades, or tall cliffs, grace the landscape. One large formation is particularly spectacular. Soon, there’s more evidence of human history with a cemetery and the ghostly remains of Sego, a town that died when coal mines were abandoned in the area in 1947. The canyon tightens and the scenery becomes greener and more forested as you proceed. While humans no longer live here, plenty of wildlife does. Keep an eye out for deer, elk and mountain lion. While parked to admire the scenery, a black bear walked up the road toward our car before eventually climbing the hillside!
Keep in Mind
The start of the road is paved and then becomes gravel. It’s in pretty good shape but pay attention to summer flash floods and winter ice and snow. The location is remote so be sure to fill your gas tank and take plenty of water, especially in summer when temperatures soar in the canyon.
Route & Map
The Sego Canyon turnoff is 26 miles east of Green River, Utah and 77 miles west of Grand Junction, Colorado. From I-70 in eastern Utah, take Thompson Springs exit 187 and follow Highway 94 through Thompson to reach Sego Canyon Road. The canyon makes a great side trip from Moab, the area’s major tourist destination, about 40 miles south.
Plan on driving about 10 miles up the canyon’s paved and then gravel road to see everything, so 20 miles roundtrip to get back to the freeway. The petroglyphs are five miles north of I-70 on Sego Canyon Road. Look for the parking area on the left. The ghost town, cemetery and other remnants from the canyon’s coal mining days are a short drive further.
2 hours with stops
The Bureau of Land Management has a webpage on Sego Canyon. Climb Utah also has an informative writeup. Moab, the area’s major tourist destination, offers lots of help on its website.
Utah’s Destination: Corona Arch