Firefighters work to protect Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs

Jul 18, 2022, 5:00 PM
chalk creek hieroglyphs with firefighters in front...
Fire crews protecting the Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs (Utah Fire Info)
(Utah Fire Info)

FILLMORE, Utah — Stone etchings above a cave, the Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs in Millard County, remain for future Utahns to explore because firefighters fighting the Halfway Hill Fire took steps to protect the site. 

The U.S. Forest Service said crews fighting the fire near Fillmore worked with archaeologists to protect the Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs. They developed that plan shortly after the fire broke out ten days ago. 

The Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs: a Utah mystery

Unlike many of Utah’s famous petroglyphs and pictographs, we don’t know much about the origins of the Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs. Prospectors discovered the site, which features several lines of symbols etched into the rock over a cave opening, back in 1939. Because they resembled Egyptian hieroglyphics more than the traditional petroglyphs and pictographs of Utah’s indigenous peoples, some people speculated they must mean something. Among the going theories? The glyphs lead to golden tablets. Another speculates they were left by Spanish miners hunting for gold. No one actually knows. 

Whatever their origin or meaning, the site remains one of Millard County’s most popular with visitors. So when the Halfway Hill Fire started nearby, the multiple agencies responding knew they would need to consider what they could do, if anything to protect the site. 

Gina Knudson, a public information officer for the Halfway Hill Fire, says crews met with archaeologists to create a plan that they could set in motion if the fire got too close. That ultimately happened on July 12, 2022, when winds shifted the fire within one mile of the cave opening. She says the preferred course of action was not to disturb the site if possible. 

“They know how important that is to people around here and all over,” she said. “We wanted to leave it as pristine as possible, but also — with the way the fire was moving, they decided to take action to protect that so that future generations could enjoy it as well.” 

A Bureau of Land Management archaeologist visited the site with firefighters. They removed vegetation adjacent to the hieroglyphs, then used fire protection fabric to cover signs and the hieroglyphs themselves. Then they dug a fireline around the site. 

Ultimately, the fire shifted away from the Chalk Creek Hieroglyphics, but Knudson said the protective measures will remain in place in case the fire moves yet again. 

The Halfway Hill Fire is currently 39% contained; it covers just under 12,000 acres. 

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Firefighters work to protect Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs