Castle Valley Comments
July 3, 2014
by Ron Drake
Jul 03, 2014 | 564 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The deer, which is created by shadows and highlights of rock formations at the base of Castle Rock appears every year around the summer solstice and only for a short time in the afternoons. Izzy Nelson captured the image Saturday, June 21.
The deer, which is created by shadows and highlights of rock formations at the base of Castle Rock appears every year around the summer solstice and only for a short time in the afternoons. Izzy Nelson captured the image Saturday, June 21.
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The most prominent geological feature of the Castle Valley landscape for everyone living here is Castle Rock. The 400-foot Wingate sandstone tower stands on a 1,000-foot cone northeast of the valley and is the prominent fixture usually seen in the background of many of the photographs people take in the valley.

Castle Rock has been the setting for many television commercials and music videos. After the well-known climbers Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls made the first recorded ascent in 1961, probably thousands of others have climbed the tower. In 1978, I watched as ABC’s Wide World of Sports televised a live broadcast of a famous climber making the ascent to the top of the tower.

Fifty years ago this year, Chevrolet used a helicopter to lift a red 1964 convertible and a model to the top of Castle Rock to film a commercial. After the filming, the wind kicked up and the film crew was not able to get the model down off of the rock. So a couple of climbers scaled up with food and shelter to spend the night and be rescued the next morning.

But for us on the ground, Castle Rock holds other mysteries. For many years on the morning of the summer solstice, many local residents would gather on the deck of the home of Jack Powers at the end of Buchanan Lane to enjoy a pancake breakfast and witness the “triple sunrise” that occurs every year on June 21. The phenomenon can only be seen from that neighborhood and only on the summer solstice.

The “triple sunrise” is created when the sun appears around 6:55 a.m. to the left of “Baby Carriage Rock,” that little nub northwest of Castle Rock. The sun then disappears behind the nub and soon reappears between Baby Carriage Rock and Castle Rock. Then it disappears again, only to reappear on the top of Castle Rock. As far as I know, the last time anyone gathered at Jack Powers’ old place was 2009, when Summer Egland was renting the home and several dozen people got together to watch the annual event. Jack Powers was also there while visiting from Michigan, where he now lives with a daughter. We had a wonderful breakfast that morning but the clouds obscured Castle Rock, blocking our view of the triple sunrise.

Just recently I became aware of another interesting rarity involving Castle Rock. This one also occurs every year around the time of the summer solstice when the image of a buck deer appears at the base of the tower, created by shadows and highlights of rock formations. The deer image is formed during the summer solstice and visible only in the afternoons when the sun hits the rock just right.

Izzy Nelson of Moab became aware of this several years ago when he was visiting with a longtime Moab resident, Bernard Weber. Weber had pulled out an old photo album and was showing Nelson pictures of Castle Rock with the image of a deer at the base. Nelson took a picture of the snapshot in the album so he could recognize the phenomenon when he saw it in person, but after several years of looking he was never able to find it. He asked Bego Gerhart about the deer, figuring that if anyone knew about it, it would be him. After all, as an avid climber, Gerhart scaled Castle Rock many times and as a longtime Grand County Search and Rescue member, he would know about the deer if anybody would. Gerhart even climbed the tower on the Fourth of July one year to set off fireworks to celebrate Independence Day. But even he was unaware of the deer.

For the next couple of years, Nelson kept looking for the deer every time he went through Castle Valley to the mountains. But it never appeared until last week. In an email to Gerhart about his find, Nelson wrote: “Bego: It finally showed up. Driving down Castle Valley I looked up and I’ll be derned — there was that deer. I asked you about it quite some time ago and I have looked and looked for it to no avail. At the summer equinox in the afternoon it shows up. And now I know.”

Nelson stopped at several locations along the route between Castleton and Castle Valley to take pictures of the deer, getting several different angles and shadows during the 10 minutes that he snapped the images. The pictures were sent to me via Frank Mendonca of Castleton, who travels that route often. He was also unaware of the deer. I received the pictures last Wednesday and the following Saturday I was coming down that same stretch of road while returning from a firewood gathering journey up on Taylor Flat in the La Sals. On my return in the mid-afternoon I was thrilled to see the deer for myself. And now I know — and now, so do you!

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