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Navajo State Park hosts aborglyph expert Peggy Bergon on July 14

What are arborglyphs?

Pagosa Springs historian Peggy Bergon says the term means, “tree writings.”? This is not the common run-of-the-mill graffiti, but beautiful cursive handwriting, along with fascinating and often erotic pictorials that date from the 1950s all the way back to the 1910s. Arborgylphs are scattered throughout the forests near Navajo State Park.

Join us at Navajo State Park on Saturday, July 14, at 6 p.m. in the Visitors Center Conference Room as Bergon explores the arborgylphs found in our area.

From the late 1800s to the early 1950s, sheepherders would carve into the delicate aspen bark using fine penny nails or knife blades. The tree would heal with a blackish scar wherever it was cut. This unique folk art/historic record is rapidly disappearing due to the lifespan of the trees and fire. Bergon has spent over 30 years documenting arborglyphs.

Arborglyphs are a unique mixture of folk art and historical documentation, a unique and irreplaceable documentation of who was on the land and when, a record that may not exist anywhere else. Some are found dating prior to the historic Spanish Land Grants, back to when the region was controlled by Spain.

Culturally there is a difference between the Basque tree carvings and the Hispanic tree carvings. The earliest of Mexican land grants with its boundaries within present day Colorado was the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant awarded in 1832. Spanish land grants go back even further. This includes the site of today’s Navajo Lake. The vast majority of carvings found in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico were carved by the descendants of these pioneering Hispanic settlers.

“These carvings are culturally different from the Basque carvings, making them even more significant to Colorado and New Mexico’s history,” said Bergon. “They have their own unique story to tell.”

The early artisans used a gentle hand to carve the most graceful and long-lasting of the carvings. A skillful carver made only a slight incision with a pocket knife or a nail on the outer layer of bark. Often, the designs were not visible for years. They knew it would appear over time leaving the exquisite gray etchings that are still easy to read today.

The sheepherders were the scribes of the forest, and on occasion used several different types of lettering styles. Along with the elegant cursive there is stippling and relief lettering; they also left behind a trail of erotic memorabilia reflecting the romantic longing of men who were often alone for months in the isolated forests. Non-Basque/non-Hispanic carvings are distinctly different with heavy, thick and boxy letters and lines that often blur into a blackened unreadable scar over the years.

All events in the park are free with a Colorado State Parks pass — either a $7 day pass or a seasonal pass. Call 883-2208 for more information or log on to the park’s website at

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