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Aquaman — An Evocative Petroglyph in 25 Mile Canyon, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

Aquaman is spotted in flash-flood-prone 25 Mile canyon. Coincidence?

The day following the flash flood dawned sunny and bright. We lingered over coffee, telling ourselves we were waiting for the pools to dry. Eventually, we pulled on our backpacks and started down canyon.

The route was clearer than expected. Much of the slickrock streambed in 25 Mile was washed clean by the flood. Muddy pools lingered here and there, and the edge of the streambed was lined with a brick-red fine clay.

Progress down canyon was easy and quick, even through we were looking for photographs most of the way. Where the stream ran shallow and clear, I made a few exposures of colorful canyon wall reflections, but I didn't find the canyon itself very photogenic.

Before long, we came to the narrow, vegetation-filled junction with the Escalante River. Walking out to the river canyon and looking back at the entrance to 25 Mile, I could see that it would be easy to miss the canyon if you weren't looking for it. We ate our lunch on the riverbank and started back.

A masonry structure—probably a granary—on an inaccessible ledge in 25 Mile Canyon. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

Shortly afterward, we noticed an inaccessible masonry structure high in an alcove. A little beyond that, the sandstone wall sloped gently enough to exit the canyon in the direction of the trailhead at Egypt. We filed that information away and pressed ahead with our exploration 25 Mile and its side canyons.

Nearly all the side canyons were thick with vegetation that year, and exploring them was complicated, In addition, the canyon walls seemed unremarkable, That is, until we spotted a large, simple petroglyph.

It was a frugal piece of rock art. Large, a meter and a half high, but comprised of only a few lines for the body. It had stick-like fingers on one hand and a spiral in place of the other hand. Clearly, it was an anthropomorph. The remarkable thing about the glyph was the feet. They were drawn in the shape of flippers and decorated with rows of dots—the only real detail in the carving.

"Aquaman" with stick fingers, spiral shield, and polka dot flippers. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

To us, it looked like the figure was wearing swim fins. Later, we heard that the petroglyph is locally known as Aquaman—a moniker we came to fully embrace.

Knowing this canyon is prone to flash floods, and having recently experienced one ourselves, we could imagine that swim fins could come in handy on occasion. It was an easy leap to the idea that this hasty sketch represented a supernatural being in control of aquatic forces.

Could Aquaman have been the cause of last night's flash flood? Was he testing our preparedness and our mettle? We paid our final respects to Aquaman's avatar and hastened back to our exit route. After all, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. If past is prologue, maybe a flash flood will arrive any moment.

Tall reeds and young cottonwood saplings—part of the exclusively youthful vegetation of the exit canyon. An omen to the initiated. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes.

We viewed the exit canyon, with its tall reeds and numerous cottonwood saplings, with new appreciation. The fact that there is nothing more than a few years old growing on the canyon floor implied that this narrow side canyon was regularly swept clean by flash floods. With that understanding, and the experience of the previous night fresh in our minds, we quickly exited.


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