Breaking the code of the mysterious Moki Queen

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” Albert Einstein
Many years ago, Ted bought Ellis Palmer’s beautiful, wine-colored GMC pickup with a matching camper shell. Ellis had treated the pickup like a queen, using it to take his wife on rides and to visit his ranch at Verdure.
After Ted purchased it, we used it to go exploring. It was in prime condition and a wonderful ride, but soon it had scratches along its sides. Before long, the running boards disappeared somewhere in the desert. We would skulk into town, hoping Ellis wouldn’t notice, but he had a brand-new pickup he coddled, so he didn’t pay much attention to ours.
We drove the truck for years. One weekend we set out to explore the Henry Mountains. By the time we made it halfway up the mountain, the Queen was gurgling and hissing. Enough steam rose from her engine to cook a nine-course meal. We cut our mountain trip short and returned to Hanksville to spend the night.
The next morning, after filling the radiator and every water vessel we had, we started back to Blanding. Ted drove slowly, but before we’d gotten very far, the truck was steaming again. My hubby stopped and filled her with water every thirty or forty miles until he’d used up all the water we had.
Highway 95, although a huge improvement over the old roads, can be long and lonely, especially when your vehicle is in distress. Fortunately, we were able to stop at the Hog Spring rest area and refill our water containers from the clear stream.
When we finally had cell service, we called some friends to alert them we might need rescued. We stopped again at the Fry Canyon Lodge, which had been closed for years, but a helpful caretaker let us fill up our containers at an outdoor faucet.
With that water, we finally limped into Blanding. Our Queen’s problem was not at all mysterious, and later that week, my hubby replaced her radiator. We happily drove her for several more years.
Little did we know while we were placating our monarch at Hog Spring, another queen reigned just a quarter of a mile south in an alcove above North Wash, so this year when we finally learned about the Moki Queen, we made a pilgrimage in our reliable Jeep Patriot to pay homage.
The Moki Queen is a pictograph painted in the Barrier Canyon Style by the Archaic people. She’s ancient with experts estimating her to be between 1,500 and 4,000 years old.
When the inland seas dried, and the moist climate morphed into a much dryer environment, the mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, and ancient bison disappeared. The Archaic people adapted by hunting small game such as deer, antelope, and rabbits.
They lived in small kinship groups and moved seasonally as they hunted and gathered plants, seeds, and berries. Later, after they began to practice some agriculture, they became more sedentary.
Experts believe the Moki Queen’s artist fell into that later period. The Barrier Canyon Style pictographs often portray anthromorphs without arms and legs, and the Moki Queen is no exception.
She and her dog are painted a deep vermillion, a striking contrast against the orange cave walls, with white dots forming her crown, a row of smaller white dots across her forehead, two rows of white dots creating perhaps a necklace, and stripes of white running down each side of her torso. She’s stunning.
Tom McCourt, in his book, White Canyon: Remembering the Little Town at the Bottom of Lake Powell, writes, “When a person approaches the painting, her presence surrounds you. She reaches out and takes you back five thousand years. You are suddenly in her world and under her spell. She holds you there in quiet veneration. To stand before her is communion with the ancient past. She is a solid, tangible link to a whole race of vanished people . . . . Then you walk away and step out into the sunlight and the twenty-first century again.”
After walking back into the twenty-first century, I yearned to know the meaning of this enigmatic beauty. Some suggest she may have been a real person, perhaps buried nearby, others a shamanic vision, and still others a tribal leader or deity.
Whatever her original purpose, she continues to radiate power. That power, however, did not stop the Ancestral Puebloans from drawing their big horn sheep on nearby sandstone walls and more modern people leaving their names and visitation dates chalked or carved into the rock with the oldest inscription being 1914.
As fascinating as those were, though, they weren’t nearly as potent as the Moki Queen herself. After doing a little rock art research with no concrete results, I felt frustrated and wanted to unlock the Archaic code, but finally I remembered that not all mysteries need to be solved.
In fact, a wise teacher once told me that contemplating the mysterious can be life-changing. Certainly, that long-ago artist, with simple pigments and a rudimentary brush, created an image that still evokes awe.
I’m practicing silence, letting my logical, linear mind quiet while I contemplate the radiant beauty of such a work of art, but I have to admit I still want to break the code.

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