29. Black Dragon Wash, San Rafael Reef, Utah.jpg

Black Dragon Wash, San Rafael Reef, Utah

Black Dragon Wash takes its name from a nearby pictograph that, as once outlined in chalk, resembled a dragon. Later, it became apparent upon closer inspection that some passersby carelessly encircled what initially appeared to be a dragon but was, in fact, several figures painted in the ancient style of hunter-gatherer tribes from two thousand years ago. Nevertheless, the misnomer became the adopted name of this wilderness canyon within central Utah's San Rafael Swell.

The Swell is an anticline of sedimentary sandstone uplifted by the action of the earth's outer shell that floats on a fluid inner mantle, fragments of which collided, compressed, and rose. Later erosion and floods created Black Dragon Wash and the other canyons that cut through the steep eastern face of the Swell.

The matte black color of this sandstone wall resulted from infrequent torrential rain pouring off the slick rock and staining the canyon’s cliff walls, depositing clay with traces of manganese and zinc. Upon this gessoed surface, a montage was created of a bright stripe of red rock flanked by talc-like marks resembling streaks, a cross, and an oval blemish. For me, these contrasting elements come together as a composition that conjures meaning and defies interpretation.

- James Baker