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Yes, there are many sacred sites in the greater Flagstaff area. Some are obvious -- the San Francisco Peaks, for instance. This notable landmark, visible from most of northern Arizona, is part of the oral tradition of the indigenous tribes of the Colorado Plateau, an indicator of seasons and weather, home to an awesome variety of life forms, and a purveyor of beauty to all.

Other sacred places are more personal. Among these we include petroglyphs and pictographs (prehistoric and protohistoric designs on rock surfaces created by pecking, carving, abrading, incising or by painting with natural pigments). Each rock carving or painting marks a spot important to its creator at the time and place it was made. These petroglyphs and pictograph "messages" were created in many places within the regional Coconino National Forest service and Flagstaff Area National Monument lands.

Should you be lucky enough to come across a petroglyph or pictograph in your wanderings, please stop for a moment to appreciate the location, ponder the design, and leave it and its surrounding environment as is! Every indigenous tribe has confirmed that these are sacred sites, protected traditional cultural property, and very important.

So why is this information about sites that westerners call "rock art" and indigenous people refer to as "rock imagery" or "footsteps of the ancestors" so important and timely? Several incidents of graffiti have taken place at Flagstaff’s Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. These desecrations are a wake-up call that there is a need for public discussion of the sacredness of these special places, and the etiquette associated with the privilege of visiting them.

The southwest and northern Arizona in particular are blessed with inherent beauty, clean air and water, and diverse populations of people, plants and wildlife. With these blessings comes the responsibility to study, preserve and protect these treasures for future generations.

One way to preserve and protect is via knowledge. Perhaps you have wondered about current studies, documentation projects, conservation efforts or laws that protect sacred sites. You have an opportunity to learn more by attending the American Rock Art Research Association’s annual conference being held here in Flagstaff at the DuBois Center on the NAU campus June 15-16 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (more info at https://arara.wildapricot.org). As of this writing there are some places available on a few of the 26 different field trips that were offered, so you may be able to sign up to visit a site on a guided tour.

The special places include several locations on our Flagstaff Area Monuments, on the Hopi and Navajo Nations, national forests, city, state and private property. You may be surprised and delighted by the diversity of the imagery left on the rocks long ago.

Even if all the ARARA trips are full, you will see and learn from the PowerPoint presentations, posters, and by conversing with the community of dedicated rock art professionals and volunteers.

Visit our national parks, forests and open space preserves, but do so responsibly. Know that the landscapes where the ancestors left their messages on the rocks hold much traditional knowledge, cultural heritage, and provide a way to link with the past and hope for the future. Share what you have seen and learned with your children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends. If we all care for our Mother Earth and the sacred sites around us, she will care for us.

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Evelyn Billo and Robert Mark have been documenting petroglyph and pictograph sites around the world for more than 35 years. Members of the Picture Canyon Working Group, Research Associates at MNA, co-chairs of American Rock Art Research Association’s Annual Conference at NAU June 14–17, and owners of Rupestrian CyberServices.

The NPS/USFS Roving Rangers is a unique agreement between the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to provide Interpretive Ranger walks and talks in the Flagstaff area throughout the summer.

Submit questions for the ‘Ask a Ranger’ weekly column to askaranger@gmail.com

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