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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

History on Location: Fremont Indian State Park

I had driven past it at least a hundred times in my life--a dozen of those in the last six months alone. But we finally decided to pull off of the interstate and visit Fremont Indian State Park. Located in south-central Utah, near the junction of I-15 and I-70, it's a fascinating visit whether you've got half an hour or half a day.



Rock Art

The Fremont Indians lived from about 400-1300 AD in northern and central Utah and adjacent states. They were contemporaries with the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) and traded with them, although their cultures were distinct from each other. The Fremont weren't a unified tribe, but were groups of Native Americans with shared cultural characteristics. They were farmers, many lived in pit houses, created jewelry and doll-like figurines, and made rock art in the form of pictographs (painted on the rock) and petroglyphs (carved into the rock). Clear Creek Canyon in Utah seems to have been both a transit point and the site of the largest Fremont settlement yet uncovered.



Visiting a Pit House

The village lay undiscovered until the western end of Interstate 70 was being completed in the early 1980's. When the construction crews started unearthing artifacts, work was halted while archaeologists could come in and figure out what was going on. What was going on was a village of about 300 people on Five Finger Ridge. Thousands of artifacts were recovered, and hundreds of rock art panels were found on nearby cliffs and canyon walls. In 1987, Fremont Indian State Park and Museum opened, and has been active ever since.



Emerging from the Pit House

The park consists of hundreds of acres in Clear Creek and nearby canyons, along both sides of Interstate 70. The museum and vistors center is near the center of the park, just off of Exit 17. The visitors center is open every day but Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day, from 9:00 - 5:00, with extended hours during the summer. The museum and nearby grounds have a lot of hands-on activities for people of all ages. The museum is home to hundreds of artifacts--arrowheads, figurines, fragments of clothing and food remnants. There's a short film explaining the discovery of the Fremont village, and a mannequin and interior view of a Fremont home explain what Fremont lives might have been like. An extensive bookstore provides more information on the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan cultures. The grounds surrounding the visitors center include a pit house replica that you can climb down into, an atlatl that you can use to throw a spear at a foam deer target, and a granary.



Spear Throwing (Without Atlatl)

There are several miles of hiking trails leading you to the most impressive rock art sites. The day we went was a hot day, and we only walked along a mile of trails, but managed to see some amazing ancient art. The museum hosts activities and events during the year to help people explore the history of the Fremont, and I'd like to see more of that too.
The only drawback to the state park is that, barring interstate travel, it's in the middle of nowhere for many people. There aren't convenient places for food or gas at Exit 17, so Fremont Indian State Park is likely to remain the undiscovered gem that it was for us. I was impressed with the variety of activities and information available here. If you happen to be streaking by on I-15 or I-70, make a brief detour and check it out. You--and your students--will be glad you did.