Parowan Gap Petroglyphs

You approach the petroglyphs at Parowan Gap along an ancient trail. In prehistoric times the gap was used by peoples living in the Parowan Valley as a convenient passage through the Red Hills. Yearly migrations passed here on their way west to harvest desert resources. Thus from its earliest time the Gap became a seasonal passage that eventually evolved into a calendar itself.

In 1894 the Parley Pratt expedition explored this area for new settlements. When they got to where Parowan is today they made camp for the winter and while exploring the surrounding territory discovered the petroglyphs at Parowan Gap. Recorded in a pioneer journal of this expedition are several recognizable drawings of petroglyphs that can be seen today. The pioneer explorers believed that this was the place that Chief Walder told them was “God’s Own House”. Even today to walk through the narrows gives the visitor the feeling of reverential awe. The huge pillars on the north and south jut upward into the vast expanse of the sky bringing the blue of the heavens down into the bowels of the earth while the pillars connect the earth to the limitless heavens.

What was the meaning of these inscriptions and why are there so many at this location? Some believe that these glyphs are meaningless doodling. But a little observation tells us that this must be far beyond graffiti. As one Indian told the author, “a person doesn’t work for hours and days deeply inscribing figures in solid rock just to doodle.” Many glyphs here are deeply incised in the rock face, planned with geometric precision, and inscribed with great skill.

Counts are frequently contained within a glyph by repeated elements. This is probably the most prevalent characteristic of the inscriptions at the Parowan Gap. At other glyphic sites most figures have human or animal forms. However the typical glyph here is a geometric form with some repetitive element incorporated. In some glyphs there is no real figure at all, only the repetition of dots or lines. These indicate number where one mark on the rock represents one of something else: a day, a month, or a year. When these marks are counted they tell of a very observant and insightful people.

Who were these people and why did they create these inscriptions? Archaeological research in the Parowan Valley and surrounding areas has defined a local variant of the Fremont Peoples now called the Parowan Fremont. These people lived in numerous settlement villages up and down Parowan Valley. Their habitations were of many small villages scattered over a fertile valley between the high mountains on the east and the low lying Red Hills on the west. Just to the south and west of the Red Hills was a large marshy area and lake now mostly dry. From the valley land they planted and harvested Indian corn. In the marsh they hunted small animals and water fowl, in the high mountains to the east, they hunted mule deer. And from the desert to the west they harvested pine nuts. Not a bad existence all in all and from this their subsistence was plentiful enough that they found time to contemplate their universe, practice religious ritual and discover the counts that make up celestial cycles. Oh, how they were fascinated with numbers and dates very much like the Meso-American civilizations to the south.