Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 25, 2011

Horseshoe Canyon: Archeoastronomy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:56 pm
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Do not let anybody tell you that the early native dwellers were primitive people. I have seen photographs taken of this Great Gallery rock panel on the summer solstice, and it makes my neck hairs stand up. These men and women were astute observers of the natural world, and their sensitivity to celestial happenings puts me to shame.

Odd-shaped anthropomorph who bears the summer solstice shadow upon his shoulders every June.

On the first day of summer, the shadow of the cliff overhang comes to rest precisely on the shoulders of an unusual, one-of-a-kind anthropomorph who looks for all the world as if he is wearing giant shoulder pads. Standing in impressive contrast to the thin, elongated floating figures populating the panel, he’d weigh a quarter ton if he were real. On the solstice, he bears the weight of the shadow of summer — perfectly and precisely — on those oversized shoulders.

On the same day, at the other end of the gallery, a diagonal line of nine or ten pictograph bighorn sheep walk delicately along summer’s farthest shadow after it has crept along the cliff face. The artist placed them perfectly and calculatedly.

See this link if you’re interested in more about the fascinating field of archeoastronomy.

Horseshoe Canyon: Treasury of Barrier Canyon Style rock art

This grouping: "Holy Ghost & Attendants." It is thought to be the earliest depiction of depth and perspective in rock art. The transparent figure is 7 feet tall and spatter-painted, possibly depicting a robe of fur.

The elongated spectral figures stared out at me with blank alien eyes, and I didn’t know who was watching whom. Arrayed on a panel along 200 feet of Navajo sandstone were dozens of anthropomorphs and animals painted onto the rock, mostly with iron oxide pigments. Late Archaic hunter-gatherers 4000 years ago made this special canyon their seasonal home on the nomadic circuit to collect and hunt. They had plenty of leisure time for their shaman-artists to create some of the most compelling rock art in North America.

I’ve had the privilege of hiking to Horseshoe Canyon’s panels seven times. Each trek brings new discoveries — fine hummingbirds hovering around shoulders, an abraded bighorn sheep herd, indented peck marks in the exact center of the chests of ten figures, or what appears to be a worshipper bending before a ‘man’ with remarkable wings. This place is not called “The Louvre of the Southwest” for no reason.

What part of our civilization will people four millennia hence find? Please comment; I’d like to know. (Sadly, all I can think of is the huge garbage island floating in the Pacific…)

Bluejohn Canyon

Bluejohn Canyon, Main Fork. Walls are perhaps six stories.

The foggy 32-degree morning in The Maze district of Canyonlands NP started out crazily. An intoxicated reveler had driven over signs at the Ranger Station, ending up with two flat tires. Towing costs from Moab (three hours away): about $2000. Another party was lost on a back road. After this unusual flurry of activity settled down, ten of us workers hiked into neighboring Bluejohn Canyon to scope out rescue routes, find helicopter landing zones, and determine where radios work.

As this canyon has recently been made famous by the movie 127 Hours, increased visitation — often by the young and reckless — has brought  problems. There was a successful rescue here just last weekend, when a solo hiker got himself very stuck in a narrow section called The Squeeze. Another emergency the same day ended tragically with a fatality nearby, when a canyoneer’s rappel rope was too short and he fell to his death — leaving his brother trapped for six days on a ledge. This area is not for the inexperienced, the careless, or those with something to prove. One must come here with a deep respect for the desert, and humility of spirit as an antidote to cockiness.

Needed a flash at midday. Also need to re-learn some climbing techniques.

Avoiding the problematic Squeeze, our group entered the slot canyon from below and at midday found ourselves hiking in deep shade. Navajo sandstone walls shot up sixty or eighty feet or more (I’m awful at guessing distances) on both sides, leaving a small slit for light to penetrate. Flood debris told of powerful forces at work, with boulders and juniper logs wedged immovably a story or two above us.

I was utterly spent eight hours later when we got back to housing; after a mandatory shower, the couch was all mine. It was my first hard hike of the season and I realized with some trepidation that I have four more 6.5-mile days in a row ahead of me. It’s not the mileage as much as the 750 foot elevation change each day, with the “up” when I’m tired… but I take solace in the fact that I will turn into a Lean Mean Hiking Machine over the next weeks and months.

Please comment: What was your most dangerous outdoor experience?

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