They look a little like ancient graffiti — the doodlings of an ancient hunter who was better with a chisel than a bow. And maybe that is why prehistoric petroglyphs don't garner the care or respect they deserve.

People look at them and don't see the value.

But the value is there.

And unless Utahns get serious about preserving the ancient etchings found in Nine Mile Canyon and other nearby venues, the state will pay for the oversight by gaining a reputation for being short-sighted and self-interested.

A letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims the impact study of oil and gas drilling in Nine Mile Canyon is "inadequate."

It's time to get "adequate."

In fact, it's time to make the area a National Historic District.

The 70-plus mile corridor has been called "the world's longest art gallery." It is home to thousands of petroglyphs, rock art displays and other creations of the Fremont Indians, who inhabited the area from 700 to 1300 A.D. The Fremonts were creating artwork almost 1,000 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Now, because of the newfound quest for energy, dust and debris may well damage some of the most important archaeological sites in the United States. And no one has any idea how diesel fumes might damage the depictions.

Perhaps, when everything is taken into account, gas exploration and the rock art can exist in the same vicinity. But until that is decided for certain, it is foolhardy to rush headlong into energy exploration at the expense of an American treasure. Taking a little more time to do things right is not asking too much. For if the art is damaged because of impatience, the regrets over the loss will linger much longer than any short-term gain from rushing full-speed ahead with drilling.

Energy is important. Archaeological gems also are important.

One doesn't have to be sacrificed at the expense of the other — if people are willing to show a little ingenuity, patience and cooperation in planning the best way to proceed.