Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fremont Indian State Park, Utah

In October 2015 I went on a fall camping trip with my California photography friends.  We met in Ely, Nevada then traveled to Delta, Utah to explore Topaz Japanese Internment Center (see the next post) and the Tintic Mining District.  The last stop was Fremont Indian State Park, Utah, to photograph the Kimberly Mining District and rock art at the Park.

The Fremont Indians lived in central Utah and the surrounding area from about 400 A.D. to 1300 A.D.  It is likely that there were several different tribes, and they may have even had different languages, but their rock art and artifacts set them apart from the nearby Anasazi tribes.  Their culture was named for the Fremont River, which was in turn named for explorer John C. Fremont.
There are hundreds of rock art panels in the park, and we explored several different sites.  One of the most interesting is the Beginning of Life panel located in the Canyon of Life.  Rock Art interpretation is an inexact science, but a Park trail guide states that this petroglyph describes the shape of the canyon and a legend about the sun conceiving life from the east and the west.  Briefly, the sun is shown with its rays, and the center hole represents a natural tunnel in the east side of the canyon.  The sun penetrated the hole and conceived life.  At noon on the summer solstice, a dagger of sunlight goes from the center of the hole to the outer rim of the circle.

The park is in a beautiful location with red rock cliffs, a creek, and views of the Tushar mountains.  We were there in autumn and I enjoyed the fall color in Sam Stowe Canyon and the brilliant squawbush leaves on the Cave of a Hundred Hands trail.

There are actually just 31 hand pictographs in the Cave of a Hundred Hands.  They were made by applying various pigments to the hands and pressing them against the stone.  I posted this photo to Flickr, and received a comment that this is “the most personal kind of pictograph.”  I had never thought of it that way, but now I can imagine the Indians kneeling here as they placed their hand prints on the cave wall.

Petroglyphs along the Parade of Rock Art trail are the most accessible in the park.  This hunting scene shows bighorn sheep, which are common rock art subjects throughout the Fremont culture.  But excavations turn up lots more deer, waterfowl, and rabbit bones than sheep.  Were superstitious artists trying to make the sheep easier to kill by pecking their images in the rock?  Or was a rare successful sheep hunt a reason to brag by creating sheep petroglyphs?

There are also much newer Paiute petroglyphs on the Parade of Rock Art trail.  What could have inspired this “alien” figure?  It was probably created in the late 1880’s.  Older petroglyphs are gradually darkened by oxidation called desert varnish, and since this has no desert varnish we know it is much newer than the Fremont petroglyphs.

The Court of Ceremonies trail is a little more challenging; with a short rock scramble and a brief climb to a ridge that has a good view of the visitor’s center and the Tushar mountains.  There are several interesting anthropomorph (stylized human figure) petroglyphs on the cliffs along the trail.
We also explored the Arch of Art and Sheep Shelter rock art locations, and there were many others that we didn’t get to.  This park is a great place for a family trip to introduce kids to interesting western art and history.  If you would like to see more photos, my Flickr album is here:

Please note that my photographs are all copyrighted and must not be used for any purpose without my permission.