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  • The Wallula Stone Abides

    Jorge Otero-Paulos recently noted, “preservation has looked at art to expand the aesthetics of memory, cultural trauma, historicity, and temporality.” [1]

    It is impossible to show the entire two facets of this boulder as it sits within the closely-installed, tall iron fence's lurking surround. The Wallula Stone is somewhat irregular, so there is no single perspective that can capture it. A magnificent massive fragment of basalt column tumbled from the cliffs of Wallula Gap, or perhaps arriving from upriver, as a local erratic, during the ice age. Then carved.  And, now, far from its mother river. 

    The reflective light of the morning sun illuminates the hard basalt’s deeply patinaed surface with a soft sheen, the ancient polish of the stone itself, natural or human made, from wind, water, perhaps rubbing hands.

    As now placed, its sheer mass is visually constrained, gridded by the fence and memorial enclosure. However, it is protected and honored.  It's surprising the stone or its carvings show little noticeable modern disfigurement. Well, except for the anchored-in bronze plaque, which the Tribes left in place [2]. Odd, had not the railroad fellows hoisted it on a flatcar in 1910 (the tracks were happily nearby), it may have been submerged in the mid-1950s under a hundred feet of water, inundated by the McNary Dam’s Lake Wallula!  

    [1] Jorge Otero-Paulos defines preserved artworks as “transitional cultural objects … for looking back at our immediate future from the point of the view of a distant future … a temporal expression … as the future anterior.”   (“Remembrance if Things to Come, ”ArtForum, April 2014:115-116.)

    [2] A ten-ton monolith, originally located on the Columbia River near Wallula Gap on the Oregon border, the Wallula Stone was displayed in outdoor courtyard of Portland City Hall from 1910 until 1996. The basalt petroglyph boulder became the centerpiece of the newly constructed Nix-Ya-Wii Warriors Memorial of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Mission, Oregon, on July 26, 1996.

  • A Glacial Erratic with markings. A Map Rock? A Sky Stone?

    In the spring of 1999 respected Salish elder Dobie Tom visited a boulder with markings on a hillside meadow near Bonney Lake, Washington, about 20 miles southeast of Tacoma.  Tom identified the markings on top of the massive glacial erratic, rediscovered during planning for a nearby housing development, as a map of the Puyallup Valley.  The bowl-like depression in the center of the top represented the original Lake Tapps to the northeast, he said. 

    The following year the property owner contracted two researchers from the community college. Using computer models Gerald Hedlund and Dennis Regan decided the twenty human made depressions (cupules? a mortar?) on the stone’s flat surface indicated the stone, with use sticks and cords, could have been an observatory for determining seasonal changes and predicting sun, moon, and star alignments and possibly as sight lines to mountains, including Mount Rainier.  They named it Skystone.

    E.C. Krupp, astronomer, director of the Griffith Observatory, and a specialist in the field of archaeoastronomy, said native peoples probably already knew when the solstices occurred by observing the heavens. "The site sounds to me like it's for rituals or an educational site," and added more proof is needed to accept Skystone as an old observatory. 

    The Puyallup Tribal Council called the find "an exciting rediscovery…considering the rock carving is located in the Tribe’s traditional usual and accustomed area" and called for a plan to protect "this fascinating cultural feature."

    Notably this petroglyph boulder is not identified in rock art surveys that include Western Washington (Lundy 1974, Hill and Hill1974, McClure 1978, Wellman 1979, Leen 1981).  I compiled the above summary through local newspaper stories (1999-2009) and fragments of references on city and tribal websites. So, ambiguity lingers beyond what can be recorded in this modest blog posting.  Isn’t that how rock art works?

    Photos (November 2013) and details:  Bonney Lake Skystone Petroglyph