Range Creek Trip in Utah
Range Creek Trip in Utah by Mel Morris
September 23-24, 2011
We top the 9,000-foot ridge and see the tavaputs (beautiful sunrise, Ute). The sun’s rays highlight the east-facing slopes where the trees are changing color. The maples are so red that your eyes hurt to look at them. Yes, I said maples–Big-tooth maples. Orange, yellow, green-crazy beautiful trees and scrubs–all turning in the crisp morning dawn. The beyond-blue sky makes the perfect frame for photos of the leaves. No doubt a Fremont woman gazed at the colors, marveled, then returned to gathering. I cannot help but think her heart quickened at the site–the beauty and the warning of approaching of winter.
After pausing at the ridge, we journey down into the valley. We are looking for petroglyphs (forms pecked into rocks) and pictographs (forms painted on rocks). Today we search for the Fremont (400AD-1300AD) rock art. Because there are no Fremont people living today, we cannot ask them what the forms mean. “Your impressions are as valid as mine,” muses Zeb Miracle, Curator of Anthropology for MWC. “Look at one form at a time, adjust your eyes then slowly scan to the next. You’ll see more detail. ”
I do just what he recommends–I see a snake, a coyote, a scorpion (zoomorphs). I see hunters and big-horn sheep. Is it an elk or a deer? “It’s bugling,” someone says. I wonder where are the women and children? There is a silhouette of a man wrapped in a blanket with antlers on his head–an imposing, ominous anthropomorph (human qualities). He is painted in the shape of a trapezoid, a tell-tail sign of the Fremont style. Dare I say, otherworldly?
I look away from the forms and see snake grass blooming in tiny yellow flowers, rabbit brush, asters both purple and yellow, east-facing sunflowers, and bright red Indian paintbrush. A crevice lizard refuses to move from his chosen sunning rock. The wings of a hawk reflect silver against the cloudless sky–soaring just because he can. Tracks are everywhere in the soft brown soil–bison, elk, deer, horse and bear scat. Oh my!
Mike Perry, Executive Director of MWC, calls attention to a granary incredibly perched high on the side of a vertical sandstone wall. Modern-day archaeologists have to rope-off in order to investigate some sites. Why did the Fremont build the granaries in such impossible places? Everyone has specific ideas–in case of flood, invasion, a sign of prosperity, or could they be like the ubiquitous water tower that proudly names a city? It is anyone’s good guess.
We are privileged to be here in this “lost land.” The University of Utah requires a permit to enter Range Creek, and it shows. There is no sign of trash, trampled bushes, or impromptu camping sites. I inhale deeply–the air is full of life–everywhere you look there is health. Artists would find the light to be perfect, not unlike Taos. I count myself lucky to be here and especially with like-minded people. We are distinctly reverent.
As we depart, we stop at a sandstone wall where we see spiraling line designs (abstract, not found in nature). Perhaps this is a sign for Sipapu (Ute) to guide the Fremont into the underworld. Yet again, we become quiet, staring at the efforts of someone so long ago. What was he saying to those who would make meaning of his carvings? I think the design is pleasing, a comforting good-bye leaving us, the intruders, to our thoughts.