On Vista’s south western property corner a new project is taking shape. It isn’t so new in the south western United States as just such a wheel in very nearly the same shape and function has existed not 5 miles away for over 800 years. Today such a solar wheel is a curiosity, hundreds of years ago it was a necessity to demonstrate time to plains and pueblo native people.
We in our modern society have a need for time measured in 1,000’s of a second. In a laboratory time is measured in billionths of a second. Did you know in a nano (billionth) of a second, light travels almost 12 inches? Consider the same beam of light travels to the moon and back in 2 1/2 seconds, one foot of light travel is brief indeed. A billionth of a second brief to be exact.
Us moderns may have need of hair splitting time measurement but our native cousins in antiquity, I’m sure, had more basic requirements on how to spend their day. I’ll speculate the priorities of our predecessors here in early Arizona. Water to drink, food to eat and a good nights sleep. Really nothing changes but we moderns did manage to throw a whole lot of monthly payments into the activities list. Still, I think we have the better, even if more complicated portion.
Imagine not ever having to worry about being 15 minutes late for a meeting. Minutes did not exist 800 years ago at least not here in southern Arizona. Actually Southern Arizona didn’t exist either at least not as a definable political entity with measurable boundaries. They must have called this area “the place where saguaro grow” or some other action phrase. Now we have proper nouns, i.e. Arizona! This makes it better you see. Curiously and to close out this vein, in Kino’s time Tucson was known as Bac. Bac translated loosely as ” place in the stream bed where water bubbled to the surface”. Hold it! Those sure were an expressive three letters, Bac, as if an entire sentence of words could be expressed in a near grunt. Perhaps the ancients were much more sophisticated than we given credit for.
Believe this, any people who could tell time with a circle of rocks are certainly sophisticated. Especially when they had no written reference to look up a how – to – do – it- lesson. Now solar wheels have been around in various forms for 1000’s of years. Some standing stone circles in Scotland are known to have been around for 5,000 years. That is pre pyramids for you Egyptologists. A site in Turkey is 9,000 years old and proven to be complex yet having similar functions to all other solar sites, telling time with the sun.
Ancient people had no need of the quarter hour. The most primitive societies could (and did) record noontime. Morning passed into afternoon when an object cast its smallest (or no) shadow. Hooray its time to eat. Otherwise time was more likely centered around when does the agrarian year begin, when do I plant my crops or when will the geese fly over? When does one year end and another begin? Heck, this is much needed info so we (and they ) can peg off another year on the journey (sojourn) through life.
A Solar Wheel measures the position of the sun on the horizon and through alignments of other stones, demonstrates the time of year to an observer. This is the crux of the activity. A Solar Wheel is a sundial telling not minutes and hours but seasons and years. There are other, finer, stellar observations that can be made from the same wheel but that story isn’t necessary to relate this one. The ancients knew how, believe that.
Always the location where these measurements were observed was special much as a church is special. In the area surrounding the Solar Wheel those “astronomers” who were in the know about the natural motions of the sky and could interpret the movements of the sun, moon and stars to benefit the society. Obviously these trained observers were held in high regard by the population. You can bet this elevated position in society was subject to abuse; being human has never changed.
Our Solar Wheel here at Vista is in a very special location. Walking around the site an observer soon discovers two facts. First it is nicely level and second it is very circular. This site was lavishly prepped by non other than the United States government. Vista was once a Titan 2 missile silo complete with multiple warheads. The Solar Wheel site was a very large radio antenna. I believe it was this antenna that would receive the radio communication command to launch. So we can all suck air on this one, the command was never given and the launch never occurred. Today the silo is empty and filled and the world can step back a few steps. (We are edging closer it seems.)
The remnant of the antenna platform is still in place as a 3′ X 3′ cement square. This square forms the center of the Vista Solar Wheel and is now a spiritual swords to plowshares statement. Here we have an old deactivated offensive war device with a new purpose. Today we use the antenna base to be center feature on our educational and scientific Solar Wheel.
Our Solar Wheel is also a celebration of Creation and God the Fathers’ authorship of the same. It was He who hung the sky in the heavens surrounding the earth and no other. No other could and if another tried he would fail. We celebrate God Almighty in His creation and in His gifts to us, namely life and salvation and the beauty of the world around us. We celebrate the world around us by appreciating God’s authorship of it. Bound in God’s creation are many beautiful and natural sequences, far past the simple observation of “now”. It is to reveal an inkling of these natural sequences, in a spiritual attitude, the Solar Wheel was constructed.
My hope is, after completion and fine tuning the site will be available for visits by school kids, scouts or any one interested in such a site wishing to make an observation of the solstice (or equinox). I hope all of us enjoy this as a valuable addition to the Vista experience.