A life-sized wooden sculpture of a mammoth was burned 8 p.m. on Solstice in the town of Bluff, 100 miles south of Moab. Hundreds of people braved the cold to admire the grandiose sculpture that was soon to be ablaze at 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 21.
Katherine Bor and Linda Bate traveled from Durango, Colo. to see the mammoth burn. “We are Burning Man wannabes,” they said.
The celebrants left their cars to walk through a lantern pathway toward three small fires where fellow viewers prepared for the excitement to come. The mammoth stood around 20 feet tall, towering over the crowd. Native American drummers played a diverse array of drums made from tree trunks and gourds, while viewers surrounded to listen to their beautiful native singing and playing.
Then the main celebration began.
J.R. Lancaster and Joe Pachak, the main sculptors and organizers of the mammoth burning told the story of this event.
“It is important to understand what 13,000 years of evidence means to us,” said Pachak. The burning took place on this day to celebrate the solstice, but Pachak, Lancaster, and many other members of the community volunteered to construct this life-sized mammoth out of brush and yard waste since the middle of October for other reasons.
Inspiration for mammoth came from the unique rock art of the San Juan River. A very faint petroglyph located near Bluff is thought by many to be the image of a mammoth. This petroglyph could be up to 13,000 years old, making it one of the oldest petroglyphs in North America, which is of great importance to many community members and especially Pachak and Lancaster.
The great mammoth was constructed, and burned for the winter solstice in honor of the petroglyph.
“Some think we should not burn the mammoth because it is too beautiful, and some think you should never burn art. But it’s a release. It comes to life briefly and releases. It’s not a permanent thing, just like us,” said Liza Doran.
Many viewers of the event prepared writings of what they wanted to release and put it in the mammoth to burn along with it.
“I thought this was a fantastic idea. It is an important event for Bluff and archeology,” said Don Simonis.
After Pachak and Lancaster finished speaking, everyone stood back as an atlatl was swung to begin the burning.
Several fiery spears were thrown at the mammoth. The mammoth caught on fire on the third try. Flames engulfed the giant sculpture quickly. A circle of people surrounded the large fire while excited yells, native chanting, and drum beats choreographed to the intensity of the fire were heard all around.
“I worked about 400 hours on this. I wanted to see it burn,” said Sandy Dat.
After around an hour of dramatic flames, the mammoth was no more than a pile of ash, two metal frames, and a memory that would last each viewer and the community a lifetime.