A fascinating archeological wonder, Newspaper Rock State Historical Site is a history or travel nerd’s fever dream. Located just 30 minutes outside the small town of Monticello, Utah, on the same road that leads directly to the entrance gate of Canyonlands National Park (Needles District), it’s a simple and quick 15-to-20-minute stop. While it’s highly unlikely to be your sole travel destination, Newspaper Rock is certainly worth the stop if you’re headed to Arches, Capital Reef, or Canyonlands National Park, or any of the surrounding areas.
Consisting of a 200-square-foot (19 m2) vertical rock wall, Newspaper Rock contains one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs in the American Southwest. There are hundreds of petroglyphs, from deer to people on horseback, feet with 6 toes, and figures with horns. The first petroglyph is thought to have been left at least 2,000 years ago, with the most recent marking likely done in 1953. Most of the drawings were created by the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo people, while a handful of marks were left by early Europeans and those in the 1950’s. It was designated a State Historical Monument in 1961, and in 1976 added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The rock is unique and puzzling in multiple ways. First, there’s the question of why are there so many petroglyphs contained to one place? There are no known petroglyphs on any of the other sections of nearby rock. Many theorize that the rock may have been used as some type of message board between early travelers. Second, there’s the apparent depiction of Polydactyly, or having extra fingers or toes. Numerous feet on the rock have an extra toe, which is interesting given that 96 skeletons were excavated from the relatively nearby Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico and 3.1% had an extra toe. Also, at other Puebloan sites, burial remains have been found with foot anomalies next to petroglyphs depicting polydactyly.
The site is open 24/7 and is completely free to visit, with minimal walking required. The rock is essentially immediately right off of the road and adjacent to the parking lot, so those with mobility issues should have no difficulty. You cannot touch the rock, as there is a large metal fence completely blocking it off. There are also outdoor-style restrooms available.
Overall, Newspaper Rock State Historical Site will likely never be your sole travel destination, but it’s a great stop on any Utah/Southwest/Four Corners (Four Corners National Monument.) road trip! It’s a fascinating piece of human history, one that has been remarkably well preserved for over two thousand years. Come and “read” this archeological newspaper masterpiece for yourself!