A Cosmic Laboratory in Blanding Utah
+ Von Del Chamberlain +
If you should be headed for southeast Utah there is something special to stop and see in Blanding at the Edge of the Cedars State Park. The museum and ruins at this place are well worth visiting, and I want to be sure you are aware of a newly created piece of art and science located behind the ruins. In my opinion, it is one of the most interesting works of art-science ever created, and I believe it will become famous as more and more people become acquainted with it.
This piece of sculpture, named "Sun Marker," is something one should see many times, for each time you go there you will see something different. This is not a passive work of art, it is geared to the elements of nature where it stands. I think of it more as a never ending performance with one of the players being the most powerful object in our sky-the Sun. Every day, from sun-up to sun-down, sunlight streams onto Sun Marker, interacting with its components which were skillfully put there by its creator.
Joe Pachak made Sun Marker as a learning laboratory more than as a show piece. He carefully planned each and every detail, yet he himself continues to discover solar interactions that he could not have planned. For him, and I hope for many others who will visit Sun Marker, it is a discovery piece that can help us better appreciate both changes in the sky and ways they were understood and monitored by earlier inhabitants of this spectacular land.
Joe's passionate interest-at least one of them-is Native American rock art. He is one of the most knowledgeable rock art scholars, especially of American Southwest rock art. He knows thousands of rock art sites and remembers details about all them.
As Joe wandered Colorado Plateau country, he noticed and became interested in interaction of light and shadow with figures carved into and painted on the rocks, an interest that many others share. Indeed there is almost a cult-culture composed of "researchers" running around the canyons and rock outcrops at equinox and solstice times to find rock art that might have been created specifically to interact with light on the most important seasonal dates. There is not much doubt that Indian people painted and pecked figures on rocks so that such interactions occur. The problem is that many light-and-shadow-rock-art chasers form conclusions too quickly based upon too little data and shallow understanding of the cultures that made the rock art. Sun Marker demonstrates Pachak's rigor and both cultural and scientific knowledge.
For many years Joe Pachak has studied rock art in ways that are exceptional. He has, for example, sculpted three dimensional renderings of figures placed on rocks by Native Americans of the Southwest. On the grounds around Edge of the Cedars Museum you can see a few of these magnificent creations looking as though they just stepped off surfaces of the rocks and out of kivas onto our contemporary landscape. Inside the museum you can see walls covered with collections of rock art figures painted there by Pachak. Sun Marker adds a new dimension: it was designed to exemplify interactions between rock art and light drawn from Native American beliefs and values related to rock art motifs and to some of the specific places we find rock art that is touched by sunlight in similar ways.
Sun Marker has an intriguing cylindrical form, oriented north and south, colored like nearby sandstones. Carved into this structure are figures that are common in rock art: spirals and concentric circles, mountain sheep, flute-players and other human forms, and tracks of animals. Standing near those ruined houses from long ago, Sun Marker brings ancient animals, their tracks, the flute-playing people and their sacred symbols back to that colorful land. Throughout any particular day and through the year as well, sunlight (and moonlight) plays through these cutout symbols to cast bright images onto other parts of the sculpture. These creatures, tracks and forms, composed of sunlight, swim upon the surfaces to record the passage of time. Special features mark sunrise, mid-day and sunset for spring and autumn equinox, summer and winter solstice and other dates as well. Indeed, one could use Sun Marker to find a solar interaction for any particular day-your birthday, for example.
Although Sun Marker's basic structure has been created, this work of art-science might never be completed: Pachak continues to discover and add details of interest to himself and others. For many, this is becoming an instrument for learning about and appreciating factors of nature that power weather, seasons and life on planet Earth.
I hope my readers will visit Edge of the Cedars State Park to study Sun marker, then go into canyons and mountains to look around at ruins and rock art and contemplate forces of nature that nourished people of the past as they do us each day and every year of our lives.