Red Rock Desert

View item information

"Men stand under large rocks that look like mushrooms.  These rocks are in the Red Hill area." Courtesy of Uintah County (UT) Library via Mountain West Digital Library.

Geology and Archaeology

Tourists frequent the spectacular landscape carved by millions of years of erosion on sedimentary sandstone found in the Mountain West region’s many red rock areas. The layers of the rock visible, such as those at Red Rocks Park in Denver, Colorado, were created in different time periods when the area was flooded by oceans, crisscrossed by rivers, covered by mud flats, and buried by sand. The gradual upward movement raised the iron oxide-rich ledges from ocean floors. These mineral deposits give the sandstone the red color for which they are named.

Many of these canyons contain Native American artifacts dating back as far as 9,000 to 7,000 years BCE. Some of the canyon walls are decorated with pictographs (painted figures) and petroglyphs (carved figures). These figures document the early human history of the area, including evidence of hunting activities and organized culture. Some of the animals depicted in hunt scenes include mastodons and mammoths. Most tribes in the region were nomadic hunter-gatherers who during more recent times settled and began to cultivate crops such as corn. Visitors to Canyonlands National Park in Utah can visit Horseshoe Canyon, which is well known for its display of these Native American rock art forms.