It’s an unforgiving landscape — a harsh environment for human and animal alike.
Most of southeastern Colorado is very dry, only getting 10 to 12 inches of rain a year. But some wildlife have found refuge in Vogel Canyon.
“It’s the springs,” says archaeologist Michelle Stevens. “There are maybe 20 different springs in this area. So even in the very driest times we’ve had a little bit of water in the ponds.”
To travelers over time from thousands of years ago to days of the Santa Fe Trail and beyond Vogel Canyon has offered welcome relief. It’s an oasis in the heart of a hot, dry prairie.
Vogel Canyon once attracted elk, deer, bison and antelope and the prehistoric hunters who followed the herds let us know they came to the very place as well.
“This abstract symbol looks a bit like a dragonfly,” Stevens explains as she points to markings on the sandstone walls. “That’s why this site is called Dragonfly Rock Shelter.”
It’s one of many rock shelters in the canyon.
“All up and down the canyon walls would have been excellent places to get out of the heat, get out of the wind and just generally get some protection from the harsh elements that are out here in southeastern Colorado,” says Stevens.
Some of the rock art is easily understood, but with many images we can only guess the meaning. With so little to go by, we cannot know much of the artists’ lives.
“What it does give us is a little insight into the minds of what prehistoric folks might have been thinking or doing here or into some of the other intangible parts of their culture that we can’t get from straight archaeology and looking at artifacts,” said Stevens.
Modern visitors are asked to respect this irreplaceable window on the past.
“This art has been here in some cases for thousands of years,” Stevens says. “In other cases just hundreds of years and so it’s irreplaceable. Once it’s damaged, we can’t get that back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and that’s why it’s so important to preserve it.”