Beginning a journey
We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.
– Paulo Coelho
Ted, Kenidee (our mini schnauzer), and I began our journey at Brianhead, UT. The Ruth Palmer reunion featured 98-year-old Ruth reigning as queen although she looked a bit befuddled as she surveyed the hubbub of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and two great-greats.
We talked, ate, laughed, and talked some more as we became reacquainted with distant family members. Before leaving Brianhead, we took priceless family photos with Ruth sitting in the middle of each group, her daughters, granddaughters, and great-grands holding her hand in turn as if to anchor her to the earth.
After the reunion, Ted, Kenidee, and I spent another day in St. George visiting with her and other family members and then headed west on the next phase of our journey, stopping first at Parowan Gap. ]The Gap was formed by an ancient river cutting through a mountain range called the Red Hills. When the climate changed and the river dried, the wind took over, creating a natural passage through the mountains to the Great Basin.
During the lush era, dinosaurs trekked across the land as evidenced by their massive footprints preserved in stone two miles east of the cut. We stopped and hiked through the jumble of rocks, spotting the raised prints only because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had posted signs to locate them, but awed at the ancient history of this land.
The Archaic (10,000 B.C.-400 A.D), Fremont, (900-12,00 A.D.), ancestral Paiute, and Ute peoples also traveled through the Gap, leaving innumerable symbols and stories on the rocks and cliffs.
Experts estimate that the Gap features 90 panels and around 1,500 petroglyphs. Indeed, the number, beauty, and details of the carvings, some overlapping others, staggered me. Circles, spirals, lines, dots, humanoids, big horn sheep, bear tracks, raptors, prairie dogs, lizards, snakes, and a huge, open zipper, something I’d never seen before, decorated the walls.
According to Parley P. Pratt who along with 50 other men explored the area in 1849, the Southern Paiute chief, Wakara, described the Gap as “God’s own house.”
Most people who have paused at the Gap feel the sacredness saturating the area. The Zipper, some scientists believe, may have been a calendar of celestial events and depicts a series of rock cairns located on both sides of Gap.
Researchers Garth Norman and Nal Morris determined if someone stands at the correct cairn on June 21 or December 21, the sun sets precisely in the middle of the Gap’s notch. The cosmic calendar also tracks lunar phases and movement of the stars.
Different cultures interpret the symbols in different ways. Paiute elders say the Zipper Glyph is a map depicting the difficulties of migration, including punishing weather, famine, and the murder of one of their leaders.
As Ted and I stood in front of the glyph and read their explanation, I was struck by the intricacies of the design, the layers of meaning, and the shaping of a people as they traveled through storms, sunlight, and sorrows.
The ancestral Hopi also recorded their odyssey on the Gap’s Navajo sandstone. One interpretive sign explains, “the Hopi people, or Hopisi-nom, entered into a sacred covenant with Maasaw, the Earth Guardian, declaring their responsibility to be preservers, protectors, and stewards of the Earth.
In accordance with this covenant, ancestors of the Hopi people — Hisatinom, or ‘People of Long Ago ’— migrated through the Parowan Gap to Hopi, Tuuwanasavi, the spiritual center of the Earth. The petroglyphs here testify to the fulfillment of their covenant with Maasaw.”
Years later, the Spanish left their mark as an expedition led by two Franciscan friars, Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante, searched for a route from Santa Fe to their Catholic mission in central California.
Their effort eventually failed, and they turned back near Utah Lake, but their journals, and maps later helped other explorers, including Jedediah Smith, carve out a less arduous route, now known as the Old Spanish Trail.
Pioneers who settled the nearby town of Parowan left Provo in 1850 and included 120 men, 31 women, and 18 children. Some of the men carved their names and dates on the Gap’s south walls, so the rocks and cliffs eventually became a rich cornucopia of different cultures, times, and spiritual traditions and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
As Ted, Kenidee, and I followed the path around the petroglyphs, we were grateful for the interpretive signs and the BLM effort to interview Paiute and Hopi elders, but, of course, many of the symbols remain a mystery.
“You are far from the end of your journey,” says Buddha. “The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart. See how you love.”
As we climbed back into our 4-Runner, I pondered the hearts of those who had traveled through the Gap before us. I’m positive they loved as passionately as we love our own families and felt deep gratitude that our vacation began at a family reunion where we paused for a moment to love and share and honor Ted’s mom.
Next stop on our journey? Not in the sky, as the Buddha said, but deep in the heart of the earth at Lehman Cave in the Great Basin National Park.