My husband and I recently did some hiking and exploring in Comb Ridge with the objective of locating the extensive petroglyph display known as Procession Panel. While not exactly a secret, locations of many Anasazi ruins and rock art sites throughout the Four Corners region are kept under wraps by history enthusiasts, public lands employees and scientists such as archaeologists, anthropologists and the likes for fear of vandalism and over-visitation that can cause permanent damage to such sites. However, with a little research and some decent map-reading skills, most folks can figure out where some of the more significant sites are located. (Most sites are located on public lands managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.) Increased public awareness efforts by officials are also doing much to enlighten visitors about how best to treat such fragile sites so that they may be preserved for generations to come.
Procession Panel is located in Comb Ridge, which is a unique geologic formation called a monocline that extends approximately 80 miles north-to-south across the Arizona and Utah border. Comprised of sedimentary layers (Navajo Sandstone on the eastern, gently sloped side, Wingate Sandstone forming the steep, western cliffs), this “hogback” is riddled with alcoves, springs and canyons. The riparian Comb and Butler Washes paralleling the ridge on both sides provided water, game and edible and medicinal plants, making this region ideal for habitation by the Anasazi.
Believed to be rock art dating from the Basketmaker III period, which pre-dated the more famous Pueblo I, II, and III periods best known for their impressive cliff dwellings and pottery, Procession Panel depicts a scene of numerous (179 is one documented count) figures called anthropomorphs that appear to be marching from multiple directions towards a specific destination taking the form of a circle. Zoomorphs are also present, and include several deer or elk, as well as a mountain sheep. At least two anthropomorphs have birds atop their heads, several are holding crooks, and many are holding up one arm carrying some type of object that resembles a torch (in some cases, these lines or objects look almost like fingers). Some experts believe Procession Panel is a migration story, and quite likely there was significant spiritual meaning to some, if not all of the panel’s elements, although it is unlikely we will ever fully understand what the ancient artists intended.
Aside from the impressive and mysterious rock art itself, the setting is perhaps equally gripping. One can imagine the artist (or artists) working quietly as the sun set to the west. Perhaps they were within signaling distance of other groups across the wash; perhaps they were teachers responsible for recording their culture’s history and enlightening the next generation. Whatever the case, we are fortunate to have sites like Procession Panel still in existence and so accessible.
If you have been inspired to visit sites such as Procession Panel, please remember to tread lightly and treat all rock art sites and ruins with respect so that others may enjoy them, too. As the saying goes, “take only pictures and leave only footprints.”