Fremont Indian State Park

We had to bypass our stop at Fremont Indian State Park when the RV ran into mechanical problems, but since Tom knew it was a bucket list stop for me he suggested we take a day trip and drive back the way we’d come in order to see it.

The Fremont culture of ancient Utah (ca. 300 AD-1300 AD) is like the step-sibling of the much better known Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants whose monumental architecture can be viewed at notable places such as Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde (as well as hundreds of other sites across New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado). Long dismissed as an inferior culture due to the relative lack of physical remains and centralized society, the people and archaeological sites of the Fremont have received a fraction of the attention and funding given to the Puebloans, resulting in them being less understood. But the Fremonts were an impressive people and are now finally being credited as a socially complex society: Evidence of cooperation and trade between settlements has been documented and the recognition of food storage surplus – a characteristic traditionally thought to be indicative of more “advanced” agricultural societies – has led to a re-examination of the culture as a whole.

Their later achievements notwithstanding, the early Fremont settlements were far larger than the preceding semi-nomadic groups too, and continued to increase in size as they began shifting from their mobile hunter-gatherer origins in favor of more stable agricultural communities. These villages permanently altered the landscape as water sources were diverted, land was cultivated, and structures built. And it is evidence of these actions that make it indisputable that the Fremonts had some kind of organized leadership. Furthermore, construction of granaries for stashing surplus food, the creation of sizable and comfortable pit houses for living, and the trade of stylized pottery between early villages reliant on foraging speaks to communal organization from the beginning.

What the Fremont are best known for however are their distinctive forms of rock art containing trapezoidal humanoid forms, ones that modern viewers liken to aliens. There aren’t too many of these in Fremont State Park, but I saw some representative ones at Sego Canyon in eastern Utah years ago that should give you an idea [link]. Though these panels have been known by westerners for hundreds of years, these etchings and imprints indisputably point to an organized society since the frequent representation of elaborately-costumed figures is indicative of shared ritual – and hence a unified culture — over a large geographic area. Just as common as anthropomorphs in Fremont panels are the appearance of animals and symbols, both of which were more prevalent in central and western Utah.

Fremont Indian State Park, located in Clear Creek Canyon, contains the large settlement of Five Finger Ridge which dates from approximately 1100 A.D. Evidence of dozens of pit houses, ramada structures, and granaries, as well as grinding stones, baskets, and pottery have been found in the canyon. The area is rich in rock art panels as well, both petroglyphs and pictographs (please note that photos of panels below have been increased in contrast for screen viewing but are generally easy to see in person). Multiple interpretive trails crisscross the ridge and surrounding valley; on our visit we walked most of them, taking in a large part of the the topography, vistas, and rock art panels that would have surrounded the inhabitants of the settlement. We also visited the on-site museum, viewing recovered pottery and other artifacts while reading the history of the people and the specific site here.