Earth Notes: Rock Art Ranch

Jun 12, 2019

At age 82, Brantley Baird is among the nation’s oldest ranching vaqueros. He’s roamed the five-thousand-acre Rock Art Ranch near Winslow, Arizona, since 1945, when his parents leased it. Three years later, at age eleven, Baird found his first ancient ceramic pot there—the one prominently displayed in a photograph in the ranch’s museum.

Rock Art Ranch petroglyphs
Credit Michael Engelhard

The museum, in a steel-framed barn, is a cabinet of Western curiosities. It overflows with artifacts unearthed on his land, objects that would make college museums proud. Shelves and glass cases hold urn-size vessels of gray coiled clay. Arrowheads and spear points are mounted around massive Clovis-age lance heads.

Outside, large chunks of petrified wood line groomed paths leading to more attractions.  There’s a chuck wagon with kitchen utensils—butter churn, Dutch oven, washbasin, pails.  The rickety, furnished bunkhouse from 1900 once belonged to the Aztec Land & Cattle Company’s Joseph City headquarters. It was that cattle empire’s last standing building, hauled in from the Little Colorado River.

And there’s more—Chevelon Canyon transects Baird’s property and holds one of the Southwest’s most thrilling alfresco rock art galleries.  More than 3,000 petroglyphs are pecked into the cliff faces, representing Archaic, Formative, Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo cultures, spanning 6,000 years. The site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Rock Art Ranch is open to visitors but only with guided tours. “It’s important,” says Baird, “to let people know how special this place is and how rich in history.”

Next week on Earth Notes, another area rich in rock art and in need of protection.