A Serendipitous Summer Solstice
I am house-sitting for a couple of friends this week. They live on the opposite side of town, and rather than National Forest, their place is cuddled up against a sprawl of housing developments and a glittering green golf course. I take solace in the fact that there are a couple of lakes within walking distance, whose shores are home to a gravel trail woven through the wonderfully bizarre rock formations of Prescott’s Granite Dells. I’ve been visiting the area daily, usually sometime after dinner, to give a nod to the herons and plovers and a raucous roost of cormorants.
Wednesday evening, as I was returning from the lake, I remembered the small park at the edge of my friends’ neighborhood where I have sometimes taken their dog for walks. There was still a bit of light left, what with it being the longest day of the year and all, so I decided to cut over there and poke around the trails. I noticed a path I’d never taken before, in fact, a path I’d never even seen. It seemed to follow the bottom of a dry wash and then climb up through blooming cliffrose to the craggy basalt cap of a rather notable mesa—embarrassing, considering that I’d somehow managed not to notice this towering landform at any point in the last six years.
Up I went. To the very top of the mesa at the very end of the day. There was wind, and the blond grass it bent over. There was a gold wash of light. And there was a view—oh my goodness, was there a view!
There was something else on top of the mesa. Petroglyphs. A few dozen of them. Most are old enough that they are fading underneath a patina of desert varnish, as if the symbols were drawn in invisible ink that had been designed to function over a period of several thousand years. Others are relatively young, dating back only a couple of centuries, pale where they have been pecked into dark stone.
For better or for worse, these petroglyphs are not a secret (despite the fact that I had no prior knowledge of them). In front of an assembly of mark-bearing boulders, there is an interpretive sign. I had to laugh when I read it. It explains how more than half of the petroglyphs on the mesa depict sun shapes. Archeologists believe that this is because on the summer solstice, from the exact spot where I then stood, one can watch the sun set into a notch in Granite Mountain’s silhouette. On the winter solstice, from precisely the same spot, one can watch the sun set into a notch in Thumb Butte’s silhouette. There is even a set of petroglyphs, aligned with Granite Mountain, that show a human figure beneath a notch and a sun symbol that seems to hover just above it.
All I can say is that the whole experience was strange. Strange that at the close of the summer solstice, I should find myself on top of a mesa I’d never noticed was there, standing where others have likely stood during many millennia’s worth of solstice events. Strange that I arrived just in time to catch the sunset, just in time to watch light pool in a notch in the rock. I don’t know what I think of coincidence and serendipity, generally, but I’m not about to argue with what’s been writ in stone.