When considering the greatest archaeological treasures and the sophistication of the former ancient inhabitants of Utah, the small town of Parowan may not come to mind. But in Southern Utah there is a mysterious place known for its sliding sunsets, moon maps, and a strange outcropping of rocks known as the Overseer. Welcome to the Parowan Gap. The Gap is the first complex calendar system in North America dating back to 3000 B.C.
The Gap, as it is known by locals, is a natural 600-foot gap in the mountains and is culturally significant based on a collection of stories from early Hopi, Paiute and other Native American tribes who lived here. Here you will find a gallery of 90 pieces of artwork with roughly 1,500 petroglyphs such as the Zipper Glyph that tell countless stories of the past.
The Zipper Glyph seen from a distance appears to replicate the Gap’s appearance. To the untrained eye it looks like an unzipped zipper on an old pair of jeans and nothing more. Upon closer examination, alongside an experienced guide, one learns that this and other nearby petroglyphs actually depict the monthly lunar cycle with quarter moons and the full moon all shown in detail.
Currently, there is a small group of archaeologists focusing on the calendar system and the alignment of lunar and solar patterns in the area. When visitors come to celebrate the summer solstice they witness the sun rolling down the side of the outcropping of rock, sitting in a notch between the two mountains for a moment before it drops out of sight. In ancient times, it was like a modern-day alarm clock signifying to archaic tribes that summer had begun.
Visitors should look at the horizon for an outcropping of rocks that resemble a face. This is the Overseer. During certain times of the year, the sun sits in the mouth, and then ‘gulps’ as the Overseer seems to swallow the sun, as if to say, “winter is coming” and if visitors are lucky enough to be there in on the right day, they may even see the Overseer swallow the moon.
The Parowan Heritage Foundation currently works alongside the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Paiute Tribe of Utah, and the Hopi Tribe, among other organizations and countless archaeologists and volunteers who desire to protect the area.
Witnessing a sliding sunset or the Overseer swallow the moon, you will realize that you can’t take The Gap in isolation, but you must take it in as a whole. The people. The stories. The rocks. The history. The Zipper-Glyph, and the Overseer—they all come together as one, and as we decipher more of the petroglyphs and stories, we come to a greater understanding and appreciation for the ancient’s way of life.
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