San Juan River

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel near Bluff, Utah

The Sand Island Petroglyph Panel is one of the finest examples of easily accessible Anasazi rock art. Located just outside of Bluff Utah it has over 100 yards of rock art that spans everything from archaic to modern times.  The sheer amount of art along with the time range it represents tells us that this area must have held special significance.

Sand Island Recreation Area

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The Sand Island Petroglyph Panel is as easy to find as they come. It’s part of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sand Island Recreation Area located 3 miles west of Bluff, UT on the south side US191. The Recreation Area is well signed as it’s one of the major launching spots for commercial and private floaters on the San Juan River. In addition to the excellent boat launch facilities, you’ll find a well-maintained campground with about 25 campsites and pit toilets. There may be water during some times of the year but don’t count on it unless you check in advance.

The Sand Island Recreation Area is open year-round. There is a nightly camping fee that must be paid on-site. Electronic payments are not accepted so bring cash or personal checks. The campground is operated as first-come-first-served and there are no advance reservations for campsites.

Petrog;yphs from teh Sand Island petroglyph panel
Among the petroglyphs you will find at sand Island are these delightful carving of sheep, including one playing a flute!

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel

The rock art found at the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel spans virtually the entire time that humans were known to inhabit the four corners area. Carbon dating of a sandal found in the general area of Sand Island Panel showed that the area was likely occupied as early as 6,500 BC and there are petroglyphs that are possibly that old on the panel. From that prehistoric time until recent times the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel was marked by every succeeding group. From the early Basketmaker period through the Pueblo III period, Ancestral Puebloans left records of their habitation of the area. In more recent times the Utes and Navajo also left records in this spot that clearly had a special meaning to them.

Petroglyph Panel at Sand Island
The petroglyphs at Sand Island stretch for more than 100 yards. The amount of detail you see varies with the lighting conditions. Sometimes the bright sunlight takes away a lot of details.

The petroglyph panel is very easy to find. It’s on the north side of the site and the signs and fencing protecting the panel make it obvious where to look. There is a very short walk up the hill to the protective fence that keeps visitors well back from the rock wall. It’s unfortunate that people don’t properly respect these archaeological treasures. Because of the actions of the few we all have to be restricted. Please remember this everywhere you go in Anasazi country and be sure that you never cause the deterioration of any site. Look, don’t touch!

The Petroglyph panel stretches for more than a hundred yards and features hundreds of petroglyphs of every style. Human figures, many types of animals, geometric patterns, scalp figures, and numerous Kokopelli figures, including a very obvious Kokopelli with a very oversized phallus and playing a flute.

The Sand Island rock art panel is a very old feature and the rock has weathered to a very dark patina. This makes it very hard to get good photos, particularly on a bright day when there is a lot of reflection. However, it’s possible to get decent photos and you will be sure to want to allow yourself enough time to really explore and appreciate the rock art on display here.

The Sand Island Petroglyph Panel is a very important and unique area. While much of the rock art in the Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa area is difficult to access, the Sand Island Panel is accessible to almost everyone. Thousands of years of history are represented on the Panel and there is no doubt that this part of the San Juan River area was of special importance to the Anasazi as well as to those who both proceeded them and survived them.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Bluff or Mexican Hat Utah area do yourself a favor and visit the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel. It’s a unique archaeological treasure. For those who travel the West, Montana’s Pictograph Cave State Park has very different rock art in a very different setting.