On the cusp of the solstice

If you are familiar with archeoastronomy,  you know the importance of the Solstices and Equinoxes to the ancient peoples.

Supernova pictograph in Chaco Canyon.

The most well-known example in the world is quite probably Stonehenge. A calendar to note the passage of the sun and thought to mark specific celestial observations, celebrations, religious practices, and planning the agricultural season.

And throughout the Americas, noting the Solstices and the Equinoxes proved to be equally important.

And among the most well-known areas for those observations in the US are on The Colorado Plateau.

Though the solstice is not until the 21st, the shadows and sunlight are already lining up.

As such, Joan and I took part in a winter solstice tour within the Ute Mountain Tribal Park that is adjacent to Mesa Verde.

At nearly 125,000 acres but only about 3,000 visitors, visiting this area is a treat.  Most of the artifacts are in situ, and a person can observe the panels up close.

This panel is thought to tell the creation and emergence story. The Spider Woman spinning the universe, Masauwu (the fire god),  Kokopelli, other deities, the compass points, and of course emerging from the third into the fourth world. And the solstice shadow crossing the spiral.

Just sitting still and watching the interplay of the shadow, the sun, and the glow of the later winter sun on the rock made for a moment etched into memory.

And everywhere we walked showed signs of the Ancestral Pueblos.

And their beliefs and the importance of their observations reflected in the natural world.

Winter Solstice “Bear Shadow” on what is thought to be a human-made hole.

My favorite panel displayed some familiar iconography — that of the holy man or leader with a staff and a raven(?) above the head.

The meaning of this panel, as with others, is a bit lost to time. But we can recognize the motifs that often appear in other Pueblo iconography.

From the Procession Panel on Comb Ridge. Thought to be an emergence story as well.

We walked and took in surroundings. And know we’ll have to be back at some point to see more.

The following day Joan and I opted to explore a place that I skirted the edges of during my Utah Walk in the Fall of 2017.

Behind the Rocks WSA is only thirty minutes from our home, lightly used, and would be a scenic highlight in any other place. Instead on a moderately warm Sunday in December, we had the area to ourselves.

A place for scrambling, red rock delight, and pictographs that also line up with Solstice events.

The Solstice Snake panel ended up being our goal for the day. An amazingly large panel where the shadows line up on the Summer Solstice.

During winter? A pleasant place to bask in the sun, admire the artistry of the panel, and look out over the landscape we call home.

The Colorado Plateau is one of the more spectacular places in the world. And it still amazes me I get to live here for a while yet.

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Bill and Cathy Shaw
Bill and Cathy Shaw
5 years ago

Hi Paul, we enjoy our articles every month. Your jaunts are so interesting. Tim Geoffroy is our son-in-law, married to our daughter Tracey. We look forward to your ramblings in the new year! Bill and Cathy Shaw