Why 'Indian Rock' continues to draw visitors to Payson Canyon 01

"Indian Rock" in Payson Canyon.

Up Payson Canyon just below the Grotto stands a rock that looks different from other rocks.

It isn’t shaped differently, however, nor does it have any natural characteristics that make it look like it doesn’t belong. But this rock has character that stands for something — or someone, rather.

Indian Rock is what locals have called it because of the portrait of a young, Native American girl that was painted on it nearly 40 years ago. The caricature shows the girl wearing braids and a feather as she looks off into the distance.

Locals like Clayton Pearson would often head to the canyon to see the rock and admire its beauty, but he never quite knew the story behind it.

“I have lived in Payson my entire life and I was about 6 years old when I first saw it,” Pearson said. “I remember when I was younger, anytime we would go up the canyon we could see the rock. It was painted up very beautifully and detailed with vibrant colors. It was a gorgeous landmark up the canyon.”

Pearson still goes up to see the rock, but after years of being out in the elements the paint has faded, and along with it, the story behind it. Who was the native girl in the painting? Did she have a story?

As it turns out, the story behind Indian Rock is about a girl, but not about the one depicted in the painting. It’s about a girl — a young mother named Teresa Herbert, who loved her hometown, and the history behind it, including the Native Americans. She also loved to paint.

And according to her daughter, Terrie Zeeman, watching her mother paint was an integral part of her growing up.

“My mom never went anywhere without her paint set,” Zeeman said. “Growing up in Payson, we would frequently go camping up the canyon and mom would always take some time to go paint, and she often painted on rocks. She was in her element when she was outside and when she was painting, so painting in the great outdoors brought two of her loves together perfectly.”

Theresa Herbert’s son, Alan Herbert remembers when his mom painted the native girl on that iconic rock.

“It was around the late 1970s, early 1980s when I was 8- or 10 -years old,” Alan Herbert said. “I was up there camping with my parents when my mom painted it. Every year when we went camping, my mom would head over to the rock to touch it up and put a clear coat over it. I go up once a year to look at it and remember the good times we had.”

Those good times were cut short when Theresa Herbert passed away in 2010 at the age of 60.

Even with their mother gone and the painting fading away, the remnants of the art their mother created serves as a reminder and a symbol of something beautiful that goes far beyond the painting itself. The rock with its disappearing colors represents a story of a young Native American girl who brought a community together to admire the artistic talents of a young mother who loved to paint.

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