Approximately 15 million years ago, a long slender section of sedimentary rock sheared from the earth’s crust along parallel fault lines. This up-thrown block, later named the Red Hills, began to inch its way above the surrounding valley floor. At the same time the block was rising, a stream was cutting a path perpendicularly across the ridge. For millions of years the uplifting of the ridge and the down-cutting of the stream remained in equilibrium.
Eventually however, the relentless rise of the ridge and the drying of the region’s climate combined forces to defeat the stream. The stream disappeared and the valley became a waterless wind gap. Continued erosion by wind and rain have shaped the gap into the pass seen today.
Parowan Gap Petroglyphs
The Parowan Gap Petroglyphs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places signifying its importance as a cultural treasure.
Fremont and Anasazi Indians were the first known inhabitants of Parowan. Petroglyphs, pithouses, arrowheads, pottery, and manos dating from A.D. 750 to 1250 found in the area are evidence that it was on a major thoroughfare of early Native Americans. At Parowan Gap, a natural mountain pass twelve miles (19 km) northwest of Parowan, ancient Indians inscribed petroglyphs on smooth-surfaced boulders that feature snakes, lizards, mouse-men, bear claws, and mountain sheep. In addition, the Old Spanish Trail also passed through the area.
The Parley Pratt Expedition discovered the petroglyphs at Parowan Gap in 1849. The pass is a classic example of a wind gap, an unusual geological landform marking where an ancient river cut a 600-foot-deep notch through the mountain. Native Americans and pioneers used this ancient gap for thousands of years to provide easy passage through the Red Hills. Pioneer wagon grease signatures can be observed along the towering walls of the Parowan gap narrows . The north wall of Parowan Gap contains a huge gallery of Native American rock art. Most petroglyph sites contain figures of humans and animals. This petroglyph site contains many deeply inscribed geometric forms, along with some humans and animals.
The most interesting feature of this site is a very large and deeply inscribed petroglyph known as the “Zipper”. Many archaeologists believe the “Zipper” is a composite map (space) and numerical calendar (time). The gap is a superb “gallery” of petroglyphs that features a 1,000-year accumulation of Native American rock art.
Parowan Gap Caves
At the east entrance of the Parowan gap narrows are two caves one usually refered to as the “Small Cave” the other refered to the “Large” Cave. They both contain petroglyphs. Soot on their ceilings, from torches or fires, indicate they were once inhabited by Indians.
Carbon dating has shown that the caves were in use from 3000 to 400 BC.
Parowan Gap is known for its amazing petroglyphs (click here to see information about the petroglyphs) but the site also contains some interesting paleontological resources as well. Near the petroglyphs are dinosaur tracks made by ornithopods, ceratopsians and theropods. These tracks (natural casts) occur in the Iron Springs Formation* and are usually
in the fallen blocks of light yellow-brown sandstone. Some tracks do occur in place, but most are in the large fallen boulders, so check them first! Originally, these footprints were made in non-resistant mudstones which have since eroded away to expose the sandstone cast.
Visiting the gap is a perfect way to spend an interesting and breathtaking hour in Utah’s desert country.
You can get there from a gravel road from Parowan by going north on Main and turning left to 10.5 miles on the last street (400 North)
or from Cedar City, go north on Main (or take I-15 Exit 62, follow signs for UT 130 north 13.5 miles, then turn right 2 1/2 miles on a gravel road near Milepost 19.
For Additional Information Contact:
Bureau of Land Management
Cedar City Field Office
176 East D.L. Sargent Drive
Cedar City, Utah 84720