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Denis Julien Inscriptions

Besides spending a lot of my time looking for ancient rock art on the Colorado Plateau, I also like to find old historic inscriptions. The older the better, and Denis Julien inscriptions are some of the oldest in the area.

Denis Julien, born in 1772, was an American fur trapper of French-Canadian descent who is best known for his activity in the southwest United States in the 1830’s and 1840’s. At that time he was one of the few people of European descent in the area. He is mainly remembered for his habit of leaving carved inscriptions on rocks in eastern Utah and western Colorado during his travels. There are at least eleven inscriptions attributed to him and four of those are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Below I am including photographs of the Denis Julien inscriptions that I have visited so far. Some of them are harder to see than others and don’t photograph very well. I will add additional photos as soon as I have time to visit the others that I know about.

(November 2018 Update): If you are interested in learning more about the life of Denis Julien, a new book written by James Knipmeyer was recently released and can be found at the following link:

This is the very first Denis Julien inscription I visited and probably one of his most well-known. It was originally discovered in 1893 and is located in Labyrinth Canyon along the Green River at the mouth of Hell Roaring Canyon. As far as I know, this is the only one that features a carving of a boat which has led people to believe he may have been using a boat to travel through the area.

D. Julien, 1836
D. Julien, 1836, 3 Mai  |  Hell Roaring Canyon


The second inscription I visited is located in the backcountry of Arches National Park and was first discovered by Jim Stiles in 1977. The authenticity of this inscription has been disputed since it’s not carved as deeply as the others and is written in cursive script, but after a little research into the subject I have found that this carving actually matches Julien’s two known signatures on documents.

Denis Julien 1844
Denis Julien, 1844  |  Arches National Park


The third inscription that I visited is located in Hay Canyon in the Book Cliffs along the Old Trappers Trail between the Grand Valley and Uinta Basin. It’s really no surprise to find his marking in this location as he probably traveled the route many times. Surprisingly, this inscription wasn’t found and reported until 2009 by Steve Allen.

D Julien 1830
D Julien, 1830  |  Hay Canyon


The fourth inscription I visited is located in Cataract Canyon near the mouth of Lower Red Lake Canyon within the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. This one is by far the hardest one to see and photograph. The authenticity of this one has been disputed because of its location high above the river, but there are also petroglyphs found on the same boulder so clearly there was some reason to be up there.

Denis Julien, 1836
Denis Julien, 1836  |  Lower Red Lake Canyon


The fifth inscription that I have visited is located in Labyrinth Canyon between Hey Joe Canyon and Spring Canyon. This one is well-protected and is still in very good shape.

D. Julien 1836
D. Julien 16 Mai 1836  |  Labyrinth Canyon


This page was last updated on: 11/14/18