Amazing Petroglyphs of Parowan Gap, Utah by Bonnie and Bill Neely

The Solstice is when the sun is directly over the equator, changing the seasons from spring to summer and from fall to winter. Each year it is around June 21 and December 21, the longest and shortest days of the year. These are so designated because the sun is seen from the earth at its farthest north or farthest south of the year. In all ancient civilizations and all religions these have been the holiest of days because of their significance for cycles of life, and for all recorded civilizations these were the days of great celebration and worship rituals.

For summer Solstice we were fortunate to join an educational celebration at Parowan Gap near Cedar City, Utah, a fascinating event. Parowan Gap is a unique place in all the world, a natural and anthropological wonder. It is located at a narrow gap between two mountains, which create a natural marvel. On the Solstices, the sun sets exactly in the middle of the Gap! For centuries this place was a pathway on which most Native American tribes who traveled through here walked. Many stopped and drew petroglyphs (pictures on the rocks) at the base of the gap. For over two decades archeologists and anthropologists have been attempting to interpret the meaning of these pictures. The oldest petroglyphs yet deciphered were drawn over 5,000 years ago and show remarkable sophisitication in native people’s understanding of the earth, skies and cycles of life.
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Not only is each day of the solar calendar indicated, with days, weeks and months delineated, but there is an accurate lunar calendar as well. Today the Western world uses a solar calendar system with 12 months divided into 52 weeks. Each year this solar calendar is “off” by about six hours, so every four years an extra day, February 29, is added to our calendar to compensate for the increments of time the solar calendar has missed. The years with February 29, of which 2008 is one, are Leap Years. Pretty modern and brilliant? The native Americans had it figured out thousands of years ago, and the Leap Year mark is clearly there!

We moderns don’t even understand the lunar calendar, but it is calculated by the phases of the moon. That calendar also is clearly drawn on these rocks. The petroglyphs served as a Farmer’s Almanac! Not only are the days indicated, but also the seasons for planting, harvesting, conceiving, giving birth… Did you know that Mother’s Day was so designated because it is the optimum time of year to give birth, so the baby can survive and thrive during the hardships of the following winter! That means conception in early August…This survival information was also carved into the petroglyphs of over 5,000 years ago!

Today most well-educated people are unaware of the phases of Venus and how and when they occur in the night sky, but this is also drawn in the petroglyphs. And there are many drawings yet to decipher. It is the hope that this will be designated a World Heritage Site and be forever protected from vandals. It is truly a special place that must be preserved. If you go there, do not allow anyone to touch the rocks or take anything from the area, as the pieces of the puzzle extend far beyond the Gap and drawings on the rock.

Parowan Gap area is encircled with cairns, small mounds of rocks carefully piled by these ancient astronomers at exactly 60degrees from each other…the distance the sunlight to earth moves in a specific period of days. By using the petroglyph calendar and then standing on the mound indicated in the pictures there, one can see the sun set perfectly on the gap at any time of year. Someone traveling through from far away, who might not know what time of year it is or what to do for survival, can read it on the petroglyphs and know the date by the cairn he stands on! The sophistication of the system designated in the petroglyphs is absolutely amazing.
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Several scientists who have worked diligently on the project for many years include archeologist V. Garth Norman, director of Archeological Research Consultants and author of the book Parowan Gap Nature’s Perfect Observatory, and Nowell L. Morris of Solarnetics Inc., who wrote The Parowan Gap Archaeoastonomy Report and is a professor at the University of Utah. Dr. Morris was our speaker at the celebration and interpreted the petroglyphs. To order his book click here. There was a young member of the Paiute Tribe who demonstrated tribal dances to honor the area. Walter, the senior member of the local tribe, told about ancient customs. About 500 people brought lawn chairs, blankets, and cameras to participate and appreciate this amazing place.

We wished we had arrived hours before sunset in order to study the glyphs more. While watching the setting of the sun and the dances and learning from the talk, we did not have sufficient time before dark to really study the drawings. There are over 90 panels and 1500 figures and markings. This ancient treasure is only protected by a small chain link fence, which Boy Scouts were instrumental in erecting. It is the hopes that the site will soon be more permanently and securely protected as being a “natural Stonehenge.”.
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Nearby Cedar City is a great place for a holiday any time of year. There are many festivals and much to see and do, nice hotels, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants, and an incredible Shakespeare Festival all summer. Be sure to mark this on your Places to Go list! And we recommend staying at Iron Gate Bed and Breakfast in Cedar City