Red Tank Draw Petroglyphs
Out of all of the numerous ruin and rock art sites in the Sedona area, Red Tank Draw is one of the least known, most remote, and difficult to find sites. Finding reliable directions to the site can be rather challenging. An extensive internet search turned up only a few webpages with detailed directions, all of which seems to contradict each other quite a bit. After a failed attempt to find the petroglyphs last week and a slightly more successful attempt today, I’m going to begin by saying that NONE of the directions I was able to find online were particularly accurate. I’ve included my own directions and a Google map of the area at the bottom of the page for anyone that wants to try to find these for themselves.
Red Tank Draw is a tributary canyon of Wet Beaver Creek about a half hour’s drive south of Sedona. The wash that runs along the bottom of Red Tank Draw, which is bone dry for probably 90% or more out of any given year, today looked like this:
Unseasonably warm temperatures combines with lots of snowpack to the north near Flagstaff meant that the normally dry stream bed was a veritable raging river today. Given that the petroglyphs are located along both the east and west sides of the draw, the high water level made things difficult to say the least. Several dirt roads lead right up to the western rim of the draw but we were unable to find a single crossing point along about a 2 mile stretch of the draw. We briefly considered simply wading across the stream but given that the water was moving surprisingly swiftly and any crossing would have involved wading through waist deep water, we decided this was probably a bad idea.
Fortunately for us, the largest and most spectacular panel is located on the side of the creek that was accessible to us. After several hours of bushwhacking our way in and out of the draw, we came across a finally found a fairly well defined path that led us on a short scramble down into the draw and spit us out right in front of the petroglyphs. The main panel is located at the base of a large and impressive rockfall. The rockfall must have occured relatively recently since many of the petroglyphs are actually located on huge blocks of sandstone that have clearly fallen from the cliffs above. Several additional Volkswagon sized angular boulders are precariously perched on the cliffs above the petroglyph panel and look as though a strong breeze would send them crashing down as well.
Overall, the petroglyphs are extremely well preserved. Unfortunately, there have been problem with vandalism at this site in the past, but surprisingly there is actually a Forest Service register at the base of the cliff. The sheer size of some of the carvings is what impressed me most. At the upper left of the main panel is an enourmous Elk petroglyph, more than two feet from tail to antler tip. Supposedly there are a number of other panels scattered along the draw nearby but we were not able to access any others due to the high water level in the creek.
From the junction of I-17 and AZ 179, head southeast on Forest Road 618 for about half a mile. You’ll come to a well signed four-way junction. Taking a right here will take you to Montezuma Well, straight to the V-V petroglyph site. Turn left here onto FR 689 (marked as Beaver Creek Rd on the map). FR 689 is a well graded gravel road, one that any car should be able to handle. In about 1.5 miles, just after passing over a cattle guard, you will reach a rather confusing intersection on your right. There are two main forks to the road here, the left fork “644 H” is rougher but will take you right to the edge of the draw. The right fork, 9020 D is in good condition but ends in a couple hundred yards at a side canyon that you will have to scramble across just to get to Red Tank Draw. If you take the left fork, after about 0.3 miles, you will reach another junction. The Google Map shows that the road ends at this point but as you can see on the satellite image, the road continues on in two directions. You should be able to tell that you are close to the edge of the canyon at this point. Park here and walk to the edge of the draw. There is a fairly well trodden path down into the draw near this point. (GPS coordinates: N 34.68477, W 111.71680) It took us several hours to find it given the crappy directions that we had. Once you’ve found the path, it is a quick scramble down to the bottom of the draw where you will find a forest service register just below the main panel of petroglyphs.
Remember to leave the site exactly as you found it. Never touch the petroglyphs as oils from your hand can cause them to deteriorate. A good list of archeological site etiquette can be found here.
Be careful: you can’t walk two feet around here without running into a prickly pear cactus or something else sharp and spiny. Many of the rock ledges that you’ll be climbing on are somewhat unstable. This would also be a phenomenal place to find rattlesnakes in the summer, so watch where you’re putting you’re hands and feet carefully.