Monday, September 22, 2008

Desert Destination: Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

Every Monday we visit a desert destination.
Located north of Cedar City, Utah, the Parowan Gap petroglyphs grace a steep rockface. Although many petroglyph locations are kept secret to help preserve them, these are not because a road goes right next to them. The BLM (Bureau of Land Management--it manages most of the public land in the West) has erected interpretive signs and a fence. 

The petroglyphs were made by prehistoric Fremont and Southern Paiute cultures and placed on the National Historic Register in 1969. Although people guess what the petroglyphs mean, no one knows for certain what they all mean. That's part of the fun of looking at petroglyphs, thinking about what compelled someone to scrape a rock on the bigger rock and why they decided to draw what they did. They obviously had to spend some time to make the drawings, and likely they represent a number of different activities and counts. 

Here's the road that leads through Parowan Gap. The gap is a split in a three-mile long ridge of Jurassic Navajo Sandstone that's about 100 meters (300 feet) higher than the valley floor. Much of the sandstone has shattered, and the fence in the Gap not only protects the petroglyphs but also keeps falling rocks from getting out on the road. The Gap is the result of a stream that eroded away the sedimentary rock as it was being pushed upwards along a fault line.

This set of petroglyphs appears to have fewer human-like and animal drawings than many others I've seen. Instead it contains a large number of geometric designs, like the squares with dots on the right hand side and  the glyph in the middle called the Zipper. Recent research indicates that this area was used as a calendar. To learn more, click here.

These petroglyphs were first brought to the world's attention in 1849, when Parley P. Pratt led an expedition to look for new settlement sites. Over time, the Gap was used as an access route and a quarry. The road was expanded and some of the petroglyphs were lost. It's estimated that about half of the original petroglyphs are still present.

Sagebrush grows next to the small parking area. When Desert Boy and I visited, we had the place to ourselves, and most of the time this is a quiet spot. Crowds occasionally gather, such as during the summer solstice, when a local puts on a special presentation about the petroglyphs or when bike tours take a break.

On the left side of the above photo, you can see what looks like a sideways horseshoe; perhaps it is a map. On the right side is what appears to be a bighorn sheep. When visiting petroglyphs, it's fine to take photos, but touching the rock leaves behinds oils that can degrade the art. Some of the drawings may have been made over a thousand years ago. It is amazing how they have survived the wind and sun and rain and how they can inspire us.
Happy First Day of Autumn!

1 comment:

Michelle said...

That's pretty cool. I never would've known it was bad to touch the rocks.. I'll keep that in mind if I ever go on another road trip!

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