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Along the border with Colorado in east-central Utah near the ghost towns of Thompson Springs and Sego is an area rich in history, both ancient and modern, the area is known as the Book Cliffs. The Book Cliffs geographic area spans the border into Colorado and is one of the best kept secrets in the west in my personal opinion.

Most people buzz past the book cliffs along Interstate 70 and never stop to look twice. From the road, the Book Cliffs are just a dull, lifeless looking prominence that skirts the far edge of a wide, barren, dusty desert basin where nothing but cactus and a few sparse shrubs grow. Dotted with patches of alkali and crisscrossed with sandy washes, there isn’t much reason for anyone to stop in this part of the world.

For years I was one of those people who sped through this region on my way to more scenic parts. But recently my interest in ghost town photography led me off of Interstate 70 and into the Book Cliffs for the first time. My original destination was the old coal mining town of Sego, Utah, now completely deserted and a very picturesque setting for the photographer of “old junk”.

On my first visit to Sego I was taken back by the beauty of the area, how different it was from it’s far away appearance from the interstate. The Book Cliffs weren’t the dry dead bluffs they appeared to be. Here, in the middle of the desert, were deep canyons with tiny water flows, tall cottonwood trees, sagebrush, pinyon pine and juniper, and even a few Aspen at higher elevations.

Wildlife abounds in the Book Cliffs area, pronghorn antelope, deer, squirrels, mountain lions, birds, and every size and shape of lizard imaginable call this area home. I’m sure there are plenty of snakes as well, but I didn’t set out to find any, having a long-standing agreement with the snakes that I leave them alone, they leave me alone. This is and has been a land of plenty hidden away in the inhospitable desert for a very long time.

Looking on the red stained walls of the sandstone cliffs and canyons a trained eye can spot Native American rock drawings in great abundance. Some of the rock drawings, such as the Sego Canyon petroglyphs/pictographs are fairly well-known and easy to find. Thousands of other rock drawings dot the region seldom noticed, and many still waiting to be found by modern eyes.

These images represent the work of several different cultures spanning thousands of years. The oldest depicting strange zoomorphic or “alien” looking forms were made by an unknown archaic race and date back 8,000 years! Native American lore says these are drawings of the “Star People” that are our distant ancestors who brought modern man and knowledge to the earth.

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The second group of rock drawings were made by the Fremont people who were contmeporaries of the Anasazi, and who, like the Anasazi mysteriously disappeared around 1,000 years ago. The newest of the Native American rock art is credited to the Ute and Paiute tribes and dates from 130-400 years old.

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Numerous scenes are depicted- buffalo hunts, horses, warriors/hunters with drawn bows, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, beavers, turtles, strange otherworldy looking creatures, symbols and shapes, even a lone hand print high on a sandstone wall…and, of course, on the easier to reach drawings, modern graffitti left to remind future generations what rude and disrespectful animals modern man was.

A trip to the Book Cliffs is a trip back in time, there, alone and away from the noise and hustle of the modern world, you can explore and enjoy the historic records of long ago events and mysteries left on stone pages by our ancestors.

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