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When taking the family to explore the wonders of southern Utah, one the most dreaded aspects for parents and children alike is the long drive.

My family has found that short side trips help make the time in the car more bearable, allowing us to stretch our legs and explore sites that would normally be overlooked for the bigger, more popular national parks and monuments.

One such side trip is the Parowan Gap, well worth a short detour off I-15. Here you’ll find a "gallery" of petroglyphs that feature a thousand-year accumulation of American Indian rock art dating as far back as the Desert Archaic period. Visiting "the Gap" is a perfect way to spend an interesting and breathtaking hour in Utah’s desert country.

Getting there

The Gap is accessible from either Parowan or Cedar City. If you are coming from Parowan, turn west on to 400 North and follow it for 10.5 miles to Parowan Gap Canyon. From Cedar City, take I-15 Exit 62 and follow the signs to get onto U-130. Follow 130 north for 13.7 miles and then turn right onto a paved road near mile marker 19. Follow that road 2.5 miles and you’re there.

The Gap is a classic example of a wind gap, an unusual geological landform where, in this instance, an ancient river has cut a 600-foot deep notch through the red hills. It includes an incredible gallery of American Indian rock art etched into the stones over a period of about 1,000 years.

Geometric designs, images of lizards, snakes, mountain sheep, bear claws and human figures cover the canyon walls. The best panels are easy to find because they are right along the roadway and are surrounded by wire fences. This is one of those rare, out-of-the way places we highly recommend. And there’s an added bonus: It’s free.

If you go

Be sure to note that there is no camping or water available at the Gap. The town of Parowan offers food, fuel and accommodations, so plan accordingly. If you have extra time you might also want to explore the town, which still retains much of the look and feel of a pioneer settlement.

The old stone LDS chapel is a beautiful example of early church architecture. No longer used for services, it is home to a Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum. Tours are usually available during business hours.

The Parowan Gap is full of rich history and is easily accessible; it will provide interest for all members of the family. So get out of that car and stretch those legs.