Sunday, September 14, 2008

Petroglyph Trail-Interpretation

The 2.4 mile Petroglyph Trail in Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado is probably the best all around hiking trail in the park that can be visited every year.

The Petroglyph Trail itself visits the rocky, sheltered, and forested area just below the rim of Spruce Canyon, passes by a small ruins site and goes past the best petroglyph site in Mesa Verde. But before you get to that, the interpretive descent into the canyon identifies many of the common plants of the canyon and passes by Spruce Tree House, one of two cliff dweller sites that can be visited without going on a ranger guided tour.

The trail has a lot of ups and downs, rocky steps and wide canyon views before arriving at the highlight petroglyph panel. The trail guide offers some interpretations that were provided by current day Hopi Native Americans.
The squarish swirl below the hand print represents the "Sipapu" the place where the Pueblo People emerged from the earth, taken as the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. To the left of the Sipapu and higher the Eagle Clan symbol indicates that they separated from the main migration group. To the left of the Eagle, the Mountain Sheep Clan also dropped away from the migration.
 The human figures represent the people and the "whipping Kachinas" influencing the people. The "whipping Kachinas" are spirits who "straightened out" the people and gave direction to their travels. I imagine we could all benefit from "whipping Kachinas."

In current Hopi religion the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona are the home of the Kachinas, the spirits who bring the rain so that the corn will grow. Corn was the most important crop of these people and still plays an important spiritual role.

The swirl to the right has two interpretations. It represents the either the end of the migration, here in Mesa Verde, or the future end in the modern Hopi Villages in Arizona. To the left of the swirl is a lizard symbol, meaning either that the Horned Toad clan separated off from the migration, or the Lizard Spirit had influence, causing a period of wandering without direction. The human figure to the left of the lizard is another "whipping Kachina."
To the left of the "whipping Kachina" is either the Mountain Lion Clan symbol, or an all powerful animal spirit watching over the people in their travels. These interpretations cover about half of the figures that are here. There are several hand prints, and other animal and human figures and a lot of swirled lines.

After the petroglyph panel the trail climbs to the canyon rim and returns loops back toward the Spruce Tree House area, giving some views from above and to the side.

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  1. What a beautiful photo and post. :D The Petroglyph Trail is amazing.

    Cheers! JJ

  2. My friend and I walked the trail today...and it was indeed an amazing experience. Although we didn't have any trouble with the trail, there is one place where the 'museum' sign and arrow are located that has a big boulder that one needs to scale. I am not sure I would have made it to the top of the boulder without my friend's help. Mesa Verde might warn people about that particular place. Other than that, the hike was fantastic.