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St John USVI Trails: Petroglyph Trail

St. John USVI Trails: Petroglyphs Trail

Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track ©2006 Gerald Singer
petroglyph trail map
Petroglyph Trail Map

In the lower section of the Reef Bay Valley, there is a fresh water pool fed by an intermittently flowing stream called the Living Gut. It is surrounded by large, smooth rocks onto which dozens of drawings and symbols have been carved. These rock carvings, as well as the pool itself, are known as the petroglyphs.

High above the pool a waterfall cascades down a forty-foot cliff where strangler figs and wild orchids have taken root using cracks and crevices in the rock face as footholds.

st john trails: dragonfly


The fresh water provides an environment for shrimp, frogs, small fish, dragonflies and hummingbirds and at night bats zip back and forth above the pool searching for a cool drink.

The natural moisture of the area promotes lush, tropical vegetation and the ambiance is serene and tranquil. There is an air of magic and spirituality here that undoubtedly inspired the unknown artists who long ago created these carvings.

If you're coming down the Reef Bay Trail from Centerline Road, the Petroglyph Trail will head off to your right at a point 1.6 miles from the trailhead. Coming up from the sugar mill, it is 0.8 miles to the Petroglyph Trail, which will be on your left. From the intersection of the two trails it only requires an easy half-mile walk over flat terrain in order to reach the petroglyphs.

st john trails: petroglyphs
Petroglyph Pool

Today this petroglyph-lined pool lies at the end of a spur off the Reef Bay Trail. It has become a popular place for hikers to pause and contemplate their surroundings while enjoying a snack or picnic lunch.
An often-asked question by visitors is "Who carved the petroglyphs?"

Although no one knows for certain, the most likely answer to this question is that the petroglyphs were created by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of St. John known as the Taino.

Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, and the subsequent annihilation of the native population, the Tainos inhabited the islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea. Archeological excavations, such as the one being conducted at Cinnamon Bay under the direction of National Park Archeologist Ken Wild, have shown that St. John was once a major settlement site of this society.

st john virgin islands trails: bats
Petroglyphs at Congo Cay

One characteristic of Taino culture was the carving of petroglyphs in caves and along rivers, streams and rocky coastlines. Petroglyphs have not only been found on St. John, but also on many other islands formerly inhabited by the Taino such as Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba and the Bahamas.

The designs of the petroglyphs are similar to each other and are artistically comparable to the images found on other Taino artifacts such as on pottery and on carved representations of spiritual beings called zemis.

st john virgin islands trails: bats
Bats at the petroglyphs

Michael Gannon, a biologist who has worked studying bat ecology in the Caribbean for many years, located an extremely rare species of bat, Stenoderma rufum, at the petroglyph pools on St. John in August of 2003.

Professor Gannon reports that this species has been recorded on St. John back in the late 1950s, but not since.

For more information on bats visit Professor Gannon’s website.