There’s treasure in those ROCKS
By Robert Stevens
MT. PLEASANT—There is still treasure hidden in Utah, says a Mt. Pleasant man.
Daniel “Digger” Low, 61, hasn’t devoted the past 31 years of his life looking for gold or jewels in the traditional sense. He has spent decades searching out prehistoric rock art, commonly referred to as petroglyphs and pictographs.
Petroglyphs are designs carved in stone with a rock, tool or blunt instrument, while pictographs are essentially paintings, often done in pigments such as ochre.
Although the language or messages contained into petroglyphs and pictographs have only been theorized, and there is no scientific consensus on their meaning, archeologists have explained them away as everything from doodles to written history.
Lowe says he has felt since he was a young man that there was special knowledge to be gained if someone could learn to decipher their meaning. He believes the key to deciphering the mysterious art is by first understanding the subject of a specific panel of art, and then decoding its individual meaning from there.
“My 31 years doing this has proven to me several times over that it is a written language, just as the Egyptian hieroglyphs, but with some different rules,” Lowe said.
Since becoming consumed with the quest to find prehistoric rock art, he has sought out, photographed and documented hundreds of different sites. With the advent of modern digital photography and software, Lowe says he is even able to created digitized restorations that enhance the clarity of a petroglyph or rock painting so you can see what they looked like before the elements wore away much of their surface or pigments.
Lowe has digitally restored a number of panels, including the Buckhorn Wash and Dutch Flat petroglyph panels in the San Rafael Swell.
Utah is known for being home to hundreds if not thousands of petroglyph and pictograph sites. Many are documented and easily accessible, but perhaps just as many if not more are closely guarded secrets or undiscovered for many years, Lowe says.
Anyone can get out there and experience a small piece of ancient history if they make
the effort, he says, and residents of Central Utah don’t have that far to go to find some good ones.
Nine Mile Canyon
Located just north of Wellington in Carbon County, Nine Mile Canyon was a vast artistic canvas for the people who once lived, roamed and hunted there. The 46-mile length of Nine Mile is famed for its sheer quantity of rock art. To date, over 1000 archaeological sites have been cataloged, including petroglyphs, dwelling ruins and grain stores.
Traditional theory says the Fremont and Ute Indians were the creators of the rock are there, but Lowe says his findings over the years have led him to believe those theories might be simplistic.
San Rafael Swell
The San Rafael Swell is a sprawling swath of Central Utah land split by Interstate 70 known for its dramatic geologic display. It was also home to ancient rock artists who left us well-known rock art locations such as Molen Reef Snake, Head of Sinbad, Black Dragon Wash and Buckhorn Wash—one of the rock art panels that Lowe meticulously restored using modern digital preservation methods.
If you spend enough time in the Swell, you are likely to find something very few have ever seen, but be prepared to weather some brutal desert conditions if you venture deep enough into its vast reaches.
Fremont Indian State Park
The Fremont Indian State Park and Museum was established by the Utah Legislature in 1985 to preserve Clear Creek Canyon’s treasury of rock art and archaeological sites. In November 1983, during construction of I-70 through Clear Creek Canyon, a large Indian village was uncovered, and was theorized by archeologists to be the largest known Fremont village ever discovered. The park is easily one of the best places to see and study rock art.
Lowe operates Tuscoro.com, a blog site where he chronicles his discoveries and studies. He has written numerous books on the topic of ancient rock art, including, “Treasures of Utah and the Mysteries of the Wild West.”