Last weekend I ranged into Range Creek for a second time, the first being nearly four years ago on the day after Thanksgiving. That late November day was cold and snowy, but right now it’s still relatively warm at 6,800′ elevation. The forecast temperatures were in the low-80s, so I drove in on Saturday evening and spent the night, hoping to get an early start on Sunday morning. I’d read about a petroglyph in Little Horse Canyon that I hadn’t seen before, so on my way into Range Creek I drove slowly looking for it. It turned out to be very close to the confluence with Range Creek. Nearby I found what appeared to be a metate in a boulder. I slept in the Jeep that night, hearing a lot of unexplainable noises. Many times I heard what sounded like the antenna “boinging,” and other times I thought I heard a distant car door closing. I slept fitfully all night, waking by 6:30AM.
Shortly after 7:00AM I entered the Range Creek property and began walking along the road. I first hiked north, reaching the TN Ranch property boundary and, finding nothing of interest in that direction, turned to the south. I passed up a number of sites that I’d seen on my prior trip. An alcove that I hadn’t noticed before, even though it’s visible from the road, called to me and held a couple of surprises. Under an overhang were some faint red fingerprint pictographs in rows and a partial circle. Near the rock art, at the base of the cliff, there was what appeared to be an upside-down metate. The edges were worked and it was just the right size and shape. I overturned the rock and saw that it was almost completely flat on the other side, with no tell-tale trough indicating that it had ever been used to grind seeds or grain. Perhaps there was pecking or other marks indicating use underneath the layer of dirt adhering to the rock, but I didn’t want to disturb it further so I turned it back over and left it alone.
I continued my walk down the road for another 30 minutes, stopping only once at a petroglyph site that I’d been to before. Someone had scratched an arrow into the dirt road pointing toward the site. Shortly before 9:00AM I reached my first objective. While casually poking around the area in Google Earth days earlier, I spotted a small circle atop a boulder that I was almost certain was man-made. I climbed up past some pictographs that I’d visited before. Sunlight was trickling through some trees and made photographing them difficult. I climbed higher until I reached the boulder and my hopes were deflated. There was nothing even close to resembling a man-made structure on top. Since I’d already ascended a couple hundred feet, I decided to go yet farther up. I found a small petroglyph panel that I’ve never even seen a photograph of. While finding a structure didn’t pan out, at least I found something on that ridge.
After some more road-walking I once again scrambled and climbed my way above the canyon floor to visit some remarkable pictographs. I had only seen them from below at a distance during my last trip to Range Creek. This time I was determined to get an up-close look. I climbed through some unstable rockfall, then wound my way back and forth while continuing to ascend over ledges and giant boulders. On one sloping ledge there were even some weathered moqui steps to make the climb easier. I reached the level of the rock art and then traversed a narrow ledge until reaching the “TV pictograph.” A little farther beyond that and I was standing in an alcove with a number of exceptional Fremont pictographs in white, yellow, black, and shades of red.
I rested and took advantage of the coolness inside the alcove. My plan had included climbing up to Locomotive Rock next, but I decided there in that alcove that I’d done enough for the day. I loaded up on fluids now that my frozen Powerade was thawed enough to drink, and then began walking up the canyon along the road. It was hot out, but I was feeling good and I walked briskly and cheerfully back toward the Range Creek gate. I’d seen nobody else in the canyon all morning except for two airplanes that flew low overhead, circling Locomotive Rock a couple of times before continuing on. I’d been keeping an eye open for bear or cougar tracks along the road, but saw none. I did, however, see many places where snakes had crossed it.
I made it back to the Jeep at noon and, upon getting there, grabbed a drink and a snack for the drive home. I heard another phantom car door close, but then I realized it was real when I saw a person approaching me from the gate. It was Mike, the ranger/security guy who oversees visitors to the canyon. We chatted for about 15 minutes about what I’d been up to that morning. I told him about the small petroglyph panel I’d found and he was going to check with Corinne, the field station manager, to see if she already knew of it. He said there were only two other people who had permits to be in the canyon that day but they never showed. I really did have the canyon to myself all morning, and for the short five hours that I spent inside the gate, I’d seen plenty to keep me satisfied…until my next trip.
Photo Gallery: Range Creek II