The Fremont people lived throughout Utah and adjacent areas of Idaho, Colorado and Nevada from 700 to 1300 AD. The culture was named for the Fremont River and its valley in which many of the first Fremont sites were discovered.
The Fremont were a Puebloid group who had strong cultural affiliations with their better-known contemporaries, the Anasazi. While the Anasazi built cliff dwellings, the Fremont often lived in pit houses (dug into the ground and covered with a brush roof), wickiups (brush and log huts) and natural rockshelters. Their social structure was composed of small, loosely organized bands consisting of several families. They were closely tied to nature and were flexible, diverse and adaptive -- often making changes in their lifeways as social or environmental changes occured.
Diet The Fremont maintained a hunting and gathering lifestyle and supplemented their diet by farming; growing corn, beans and squash along the river bottoms. Edible native plants included pinyon nuts, rice grass and a variety of berries, nuts, bulbs, and tubers. Corn was ground into meal on a stone surface (metate) using a hand-held grinding stone (mano.) Food was stored in pottery jars or baskets inside small masonary structures, called granaries, which were tucked under small overhangs on narrow ledges. Deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, birds, fish and rodents were hunted using snares, nets, fishhooks, bow and arrow, and the atlatl or throwing stick.
Unique Artifacts Archeologists have identified several kinds of artifacts that are distinctive to the Fremont people. One was a singular style of basketry, called one-rod-and-bundle, which incorporated willow, yucca, milkweed, and other native fibers. They also created pottery, mostly graywares, with smooth, polished surfaces or corrugated designs pinched into the clay.
Unlike the Anasazi who wore yucca fiber sandals, the Fremont made moccasins from the hide of large animals, such as deer, with the dew claw placed on the sole to act as a hobnail; providing extra traction on slippery surfaces.
The most unique and mysterious artifacts left by the Fremont were clay figurines. The small figures resemble people, often showing intricate details such as ear bobs, necklaces, clothing, hair and facial decorations and sexual characteristics. The purpose of figurines is unknown, but it is believed they had magical or religious significance.
Rock art Figurines resemble Fremont rock art. Pictographs (painted) and petroglyphs (carved or pecked) are depictions of people, animals and other shapes and forms left on rock surfaces. Anthropomorphic (human-like) figures usually have trapezoidal shaped bodies with arms, legs and fingers. The figures are often elaborately decorated with headdresses, ear bobs, necklaces, clothing items and facial expressions. A wide variety of zoomorphic (animal-like) figures include bighorn sheep, deer, dogs, birds, snakes and lizards. Abstract designs, geometric shapes and handprints are also common.
The meaning of rock art is unknown. The designs may have recorded religious or mythological events, migrations, hunting trips, resource locations, travel routes, celestial information and other important knowledge. Many believe rock art uses symbolic concepts that provide the observer with information and that it was important, not not simply artistic expression or doodling. Some day, we may understand rock art better, but only if these sites are not destroyed. The slightest touch removes fine granules of sand and leaves behind a residue of sweat and oil. Please refrain from any activity that involves touching the panels. If you see anyone damaging rock art or any archeological site, report it to a ranger immediately.
By 1300 AD, the Fremont had abandoned their villages. No one is completely sure why they left or what happened to them. One common thought is that changing weather conditions caused a severe drought in the southwest that lasted over 30 years. Such conditions would have forced the Fremont to adopt a nomadic lifestyle as they abandoned farming and relied completely on hunting and gathering for food. This, combined with diseases, may have eventually caused them to die off. Like the Anasazi, their disappearance was quick and dramatic and continues to puzzle archeologists today.
After a leisurely tour of the museum displays in the Visitor Center, take a walk along the "Petroglyph Pullout" on Utah Hwy 24, 1 1/2 miles east of the Visitor Center. Petroglyphs and pictographs, the so-called "rock art" of prehistoric peoples, have long held a special fascination for young and old alike. From the parking area, a short path leads to the base of the Wingate Sandstone cliff. Visible from this viewpoint are some of the most interesting petroglyph panels at Capitol Reef (see photo above).
Please DO NOT attempt to climb the talus slope in front of you. Use a telephoto lens for close-up photographs. Rock art panels are very fragile and many have already been seriously damaged through vandalism, carelessness, or ignorance.
DO NOT TOUCH ANY PETROGLYPHS OR PICTOGRAPHS. Each touch removes a few more sand grains from the rock surface. We need your cooperation to protect and preserve these treasures of the past.
The pathway that leads to the east parallels the base of the cliff for about 500 feet and provides an opportunity for easy viewing of additional examples of Fremont rock art.
The path is uneven and narrow in places and may become slippery when wet. There are shady places along the way so the walk is not unpleasant even at midday. Many of the petroglyps visible from the path are badly weathered and difficult to spot, especially in certain lighting. There is no best time of day or year for viewing - lighting conditions change from hour to hour and sometimes from minute to minute, depending on the play of sunshine and shadow on the cliff face. Take your time, walk a short distance, stop and explore the sheer Wingate Sandstone cliff with your eyes. Then, go a bit further and repeat the process. The excitement and thrill of discovering a petroglyph panel for yourself is a major part of the enjoyment of petroglyph watching and will be a rich reward for your patience and effort.
About 500 feet down the path are the last petroglyphs along this section of the cliff: a large beautifully done image of a bighorn sheep and, on a large detached slab, the head and shoulders of a nearly life-size human figure. From this point, you can retrace your route, taking the left-hand fork in the path just before you reach the irrigation ditch crossing. This will bring you back to the parking area.