If you're looking for an interesting and quick stop to break up your drive on Interstate 15 between St George and Salt Lake City - the Parowan gap might just be the ticket. The Parowan Gap is just a 15 minute drive from exit 75 on I-15, near the town of Parowan. From the exit take 2200 West and then turn left on Gap road and follow it all the way to the Parowan Gap. You can google map right to it, if you lose your way.
As you drive on gap road you travel through a three-mile long pass carved into the red hills before you arrive at the Parowan Gap. There are also some dinosaur tracks you can stop and see in the pass as you drive to the Gap.
What is the Parowan Gap you may be asking? The Parowan Gap was formed by an ancient river that cut through the layers of bedrock as they uplifted, kind of like a knife cutting through a cake that pushed up from below. The gap is an opening between the mountains that provides access to the open plains of the great basin, making it a migratory point for many ancient people.
The most interesting thing about the Parowan Gap are the many different and elaborate petroglyphs left by ancient peoples as they travelled through this area. Scientists believe people have been passing through the Gap for over 12,000 years, however the majority of the petroglyphs are thought to be created by the Fremont people who inhabited this area around 500 A.D.
Native Americans say that petroglyphs are their written language based on sign language which was universal among all the tribes and can be read by any tribe throughout North America. This may be why one can see many symbol similarities throughout Utah and the Southwest.
Elders of the Paiute tribe who still live in this area tell the story of their people's experience at the Parowan Gap. They describe it as an area that was once lush and green where water ran. They also explain the meaning behind one of the Parowan Gap's largest petroglyph panels The Great Migration. It depicts a long trail where many experienced famine, drought, cold, ice and hot sun. The panel also depicts a great leader that was killed when a conflict arose in the land. A plaque below this petroglyph provides interpretation of the many symbols that make up the panel.
Scientists, known as Archaea Astronomists, who study how ancient cultures understood and related to astronomical events, like the movement of the sun, moon and stars believe that native peoples found the Gap's geological features offered a means to chart seasonal celestial movements. They theorize that the petroglyphs were a means to record this astronomical knowledge.
To the Hopi people, the Parowan Gap was a sacred place and a symbol of the sacred covenant they made with Maasaw, the Earth Guardian, to preserve, protect and be stewards of the earth. In accordance with this covenant the "People of Long Ago" migrated through the Parowan Gap to the spiritual center of the earth. Some of the petroglyphs at the Gap represent the fulfillment of this covenant. Clan signs (like signatures), directional references (like maps) and references to ceremonies and songs were created by the Hopi people at the Parowan Gap. The many spirals seen at the Gap is a Hopi symbol for migration.
The most recent symbols at the gap were those created by pioneers who settled this area in 1849. Some of these pioneers carved initials, names and dates into the rock at the Gap. Today making any type of mark on the Parowan Gap is considered vandalism and punishable by law.
While not a destination, the Parowan Gap is a great stop to break up a road trip as you explore the beautiful landscapes between St. George and Salt Lake City. It gives everyone a chance to get out of the car and spend 15-20 minutes exploring the gap and admire the ancient writings of many different peoples who passed through this area.
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