Thursday, December 22, 2016

Winter Solstice

Mancos Canyon in the Ute Mountain Tribal Park in southwestern Colorado holds several sun calendars that mark the solstices. Our special winter solstice tour took us to see these unique petroglyphs.
Heading into Mancos Canyon
The Sun Field petroglyph has five spirals above a grid (interpreted to be agricultural fields) with five marks below. We watched the shadow creeping across it, connecting each spiral with a tickmark. It’s really something to imagine people back in 500-700 AD standing here, watching this same thing we can see now on this same day.
To find the Sun Field, look at the triangle in the center
Sun Field- after scrambling up to get a closer look
 The Ute Mountain Tribal Park is adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park, but far less visited because you can only go there with a guide. The difference between this area and the surrounding areas is astonishing. Seeing all the pottery sherds remaining on the surface at the Red Pottery site, for example, made me realize just how picked over/ vandalized other sites in the area are.
Thiis mound is part of a very large site, probably an administrative center.
Our guide is an archeologist who has been studying this area for decades. We walk around and look at the diversity of the pottery sherds.
Pottery sherds- so much information contained in these beautiful pieces of the past
Many in our group (actually, I think it is everyone but me) know how to identify Ancestral Puebloan pottery types and can recognize the diagnostic features and what period they came from. Someone holds up a sherd with special decorations on both side and identifies it as being made between 1260-1270 AD.

The Butterfly panel is a series of petroglyphs that have been interpreted by the Hopi (the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here) to tell the creation story and the story of the emergence of the people. The point of the shadow moves across the panel, intersecting particular parts of the figures and going beneath other figures. We all listen to the story, and then the sun goes behind a cloud and everything becomes ordinary again. We wait and wander around and look at the sky some more.
Butterfly Panel
Then the sun emerges and the shadow casts its shadow once again, so stark and dramatic.

It feels good to mark the solstice by learning about these ancient people and walking where they did so long ago. These short days, and all the darkness, are hard. I’m looking forward to more light.

More Information

Ute Mountain Tribal Park has regular tours too. I'm usually reluctant to pay for tours, but this was one of the best $20 I've spent in a long time.


  1. I always enjoy your posts very much. Have a wonderful holiday and a great new year with plenty of adventures to share.

    1. Thanks so much, David. Happy holidays to you! No idea what the New Year will bring, but at least there will always be more hiking.