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Black Dragon Wash

The San Rafael Swell

Canyonlands + Abajo Mountains, Utah

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Black Dragon Wash

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  • The mouth of Black Dragon Wash.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Desert varnish coming down the cliffsides.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Black Dragon Wash.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Motorized vehicles are allowed in the canyon.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Black Dragon Wash.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The small barriers and signs denoting the panel.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The small barriers and signs denoting the panel.- Black Dragon Wash
  • You can walk past these barriers, they are not set up to keep you out.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The figures on the left and the "dragon" on the right.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The figures on the left and the "dragon" on the right.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Barrier Canyon Style pictographs are recognizable by their unusual figures.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The unique Black Dragon.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The unique Black Dragon.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The unique Black Dragon.- Black Dragon Wash
  • To the right of the dragon is another unusual pair of figures. The one on the left is commonly seen, and the one on the right looks like an animal.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The markings a short distance away from the others are completely unique.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Looking further into the wash.- Black Dragon Wash
  • The view from Black Dragon Wash.- Black Dragon Wash
  • Be sure to close the gate behind you.- Black Dragon Wash
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Stunning and unique rock art. Primitive camping nearby. Easy in and out.
Cons: 
Remote.
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Region:
Canyonlands + Abajo Mountains, UT
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Fall
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Pro Contributor

The Black Dragon Panel, located in central Utah, is a fantastically strange piece of Native American rock art that seems to depict a large flying creature of some sort. Done in the Barrier Canyon Style, this piece is considered unique even among the often unusual figures found from that era. Not far into the wash of the same name are very steep sandstone cliffs with black desert varnish cascading down on all sides. Just a 10-minute walk brings you to the panel that not only has the famed dragon but several of the more common "ascending" figures you see at places like the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, formerly known as Barrier Canyon. The large eyes of the figure on the left are reminiscent of the ones found in Sego Canyon. A completely different set of depictions also occur nearby and look more like a set of markings for a calendar or maybe a counting system. They are not anthropomorphic like Barrier Canyon Style usually is.

The Dragon has also been called a swan, and even a pterodactyl, but since none of those three are common in the area, the basis for the form is somewhat of a mystery. Regardless of what they were trying to paint, you can't deny how amazingly well preserved it still is. The mixtures of powdered minerals, charcoal, blood, iron oxide, plants, and some unknown but masterful bonding agent have remained clearly visible for millennia.

The Barrier Canyon Style is said to be at least 4,000 years old, and some sources even claim examples are up to 7,000 years old based on the clay figurines of similar styles found near the pictographs. Some new advances in technology that allow us to test non-organic material have led some scientists to declare they are much more recently made and closer to 2,000 years old at most.

All of the pieces of rock art in Black Dragon Wash are in the same small area and can be accessed directly by a high-clearance car. Lower clearance cars can just park at the mouth; you'll have a short walk to the panels. I saw some guys walking out who were BASE jumping from the cliffs, so that should give you an idea of how high the walls are.

When you pull off of I-70, simply head north through the gate that you'll need to open. Take the dirt roads that lead north and then northwest and it will bring you to the wash. There are a ton of BLM primitive camping sites with no facilities at the mouth of the wash. Most people are here to use all terrain vehicles.  Be sure to close the gate behind you when you leave the area.

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Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(2 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(14 within a 30 mile radius)

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