Dinosaur National Monument: The Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs and Pictographs at Swelter Shelter In Dinosaur National Monument

After visiting the Quarry Visitor Center and Quarry Exhibit Hall, and oogling all of the dinosaur fossils in the famous Wall Of Bones, we said goodbye to the dinosaurs to explore the Cub Creek Area of Dinosaur National Monument. The best way to experience all of the things to do in Cub Creek is by taking the self-guided Tour Of The Tilted Rocks scenic drive. It has 14 numbered stops along the way with a variety of opportunities to pull off the road and do some exploring and sightseeing.

The first stop of the Tour Of The Tilted Rocks drive is the Swelter Shelter.

Swelter Shelter, named by the researchers who excavated the site in the blazing, sweltering heat of summer, is a sheltered area at the base of a rocky cliff with views of petroglyphs and pictographs by the Fremont people.

Located just 0.9 miles from the Quarry Visitor Center along the Tour Of The Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive On Cub Creek Road, Swelter Shelter is one of Dinosaur National Monument’s oldest known sites of human occupation. It is accessed on an easy, dirt trail, stretching only 200 feet from the road.

Stone tools found at Swelter Shelter are from the Desert Archaic Culture and are up to 7,000 years old, but the pictographs (paintings) and petroglyphs (scratchings/carvings) on the shelter’s walls aren’t as ancient. They were made about 1,000 years ago by the people of the Fremont Culture, whose rock art appears on many cliffs and canyon walls in the area. Some petroglyphs show traces of pigment, possibly indicating that many designs originally included both carved and painted areas.

The style of Fremont designs vary throughout the region and at Dinosaur National Monument, the Classic Vernal Style prevails. Here you’ll see:

  • Human-like figures with trapezoidal bodies, which may or may not include arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Elaborate decorations on the bodies suggest headdresses, earrings, necklaces, shields, or other objects.
  • Animal figures including bighorn sheep, birds, snakes, and lizards, as well as more abstract animal-like shapes.
  • Purely abstract and geometric designs, such as circles, spirals, and various combinations of lines.

Know Before You Go

  • The Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs are part of the Tour Of The Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive, a 12 mile one-way drive along Cub Creek Road in Dinosaur National Monument.
  • The drive begins at the Quarry Visitor Center located off Highway 149 at 11625 E 1500 Street, Jensen, Utah 84035 in Uintah County.
  • The last two miles of the route are unpaved but well maintained. The last four miles are unplowed in the winter and may not be passable by car December to March.
  • Some other stops along the self-guided Tour Of The Tilted Rocks include Split Mountain viewpoint, the Green River, Turtle Rock and Elephant Toes Butte, the Fremont petroglyphs, the Josie Bassett Morris Homestead, and Box Canyon Trail.
  • At the Quarry Visitor Center, pick up the Tour of The Tilted Rocks print guide ($1.00) with information about wildlife, unique rock formations, petroglyphs, and historic sites along the road.
  • The guide will tell you to allow for at least one hour for the Tour Of The Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive, but it took us almost three hours because we got out at almost all of the stops to do some exploring.
  • The Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm during peak season from late May to mid-September and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm during the off season from mid-September to late May. Dinosaur National Monument is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
  • Touching the petroglyphs and pictographs can damage the designs by leaving oils behind that abrade the rock. Tracing and rubbings can damage the soft sandstone designs. For these reasons, please do not touch the designs.
  • Fuel, food, and other services are not available along this route. The nearest services are in Jensen, Utah, seven miles south of the Quarry Visitor Center.

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