I can recall being in Moab Utah a couple of years ago when the front page headline of the local news paper announced the Wilcox Ranch in the Range Creek region of Utah would be transferred to the Utah Trust for Public Land. The significance of the land transfer was buried within the story of how the Wilcox ranching family kept a pristine cluster of cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and burial sites a secret for more than 50 years before turning over to the state land trust.
While visiting Homolovi Ruins last year, I became aware of a similar story about how a Winslow ranching family has managed to keep a significant cluster of petroglyphs protected from wanton vandalism for more than 50 years. Rather than transfer the site to the state land trust, the Baird family has created "Rock Art Ranch AZ". For a fee, the Baird's will guide trekkers to view the 3000+ rock art images located on the Chevelon Canyon walls traversing their 8000 acre working cattle and buffalo ranch.
A team of NAU archeologists led by Don Weaver and Evelyn Billo has spent more than 8 years documenting the site and has declared Rock Art Ranch as; "One of the premier rock art sites in the world". The significance of this site is amplified by rock art samples spanning 6000 years produced by Anasazi, Sinagua, Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni cultures. The site demonstrates an artistic evolution from simple geometric shapes to more complex human and animal form examples.
While the site primarily represents ancient Native American culture, there are also significant ties to more recent Arizona history and the "taming" of the wild, Wild West. A company of US Calvary soldiers camped beside the access road butte the day before participating in the Battle of Big Dry Wash in 1882. The Aztec Land & Cattle Company ran 60,000 head of cattle on a 2 million acre spread in the late 1800's to early 1900's prior to the Baird's acquiring a subdivided section of land in the early 1940's. The "Hashknife Outfit" was so named because of the brands' resemblance to a chuck wagon cook's hash knife. In those days, Cattle Companies were commonly known by their brands. "Hashknife" employees are notorious in cowboy lore for their toughness, ability to get into a brawl whenever they went into town, and numerous run-ins with the law. A "Hashknife" bunkhouse has been preserved on the Baird property in addition to a museum of Anasazi artifacts gathered from the property.
Note that this hike is on private property and arrangements must be made in advance with the Baird family prior to visiting Rock Art Ranch. Contact the Baird's at 928-288-3260 to make your arrangements.
I talked with Brantley Baird prior to a recent visit to the Winslow area to make arrangements to view the rock art on a Saturday Morning. He indicated that for $15 each this could be arranged. With the date, time, and fee arranged, we met ranch hand Clem Rogers at the corner of Territorial Road and Bell Cow Road at 10 am on a recent Saturday morning.
After greetings and salutations with Clem Rogers, we follow his truck along a rutted ranch road for a couple of miles. We pass through a couple of locked gates along the ranch road until we reach a parking corral beside the lip of Chevelon Canyon. Clem leads the way down a make-shift staircase to the bottom of the canyon. A foot bridge traverses Chevelon Creek. Clem points out that recent snow melt have caused flooding in the canyon with water cresting above the footbridge.
We follow Clem along the footpath within the canyon. He points out the location of many rock art panels and apologizes that the high water level prevents passage to see additional panels upstream. He cautions us about the thin ice. Having completed a mini-guided tour, Clem explains that he needs to get back to the buffalo round-up (it's market day) and gives us a key to unlock the gates when we want to leave. He tells us to take our time and spend the whole day if we want.
The canyon has a special serene quality to it with a gentle babbling brook providing the soundtrack. You begin to contemplate the artist's inspiration for generating these varied rock art designs. Psychedelic ice patterns make you wonder about chemical inspirations.
We wander downstream about a - mile viewing many animal form petroglyphs. Clem mentioned to us that this section is a permanent waterhole. Maybe the petroglyphs commemorate successful hunting at this waterhole? It seems that critters continue to frequent this spot today.
I balance on some icy stepping stones to position myself to view additional petroglyphs upstream. More sunlight begins to fill the canyon as time approaches the noon hour. The light reveals additional petroglyphs previously invisible in the morning shadows. Reflections from the water and ice create some interesting visuals.
Approaching hour number three of exploring the canyon, we decide we've had our fill and should be making our way back home. We gather our stuff and climb the stairs out of the canyon. Our truck makes it way along the bumpy ranch road. We pass through the last gate, locking it behind us and placing the key Clem gave us into the drop box.
This is a unique opportunity to visit pristine rock art in a secluded canyon. Personal guided tours by owner Brantley Baird and his ranch hand, Clem Rogers, on a portion of the former Hashknife Ranch can be arranged. Included are a museum of ranch life, a Navajo hogan and sheep pen, a prehistoric map of the region carved on a flat stone, and thousands of petroglyphs carved on the walls of a hidden canyon in the midst of the Arizona high desert. Baird's Rock Art Ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places #02001724.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.