Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park is definitely at the top of the most unique state parks in Michigan. Located near Cass City, it is home to a series of rock carvings that are more than 1,000 years old.
However, the petroglyphs were not discovered until 1881 when a massive forest fire tore through the area and uncovered the rock.
The state established Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park in 1971. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Saginaw Chippewa Nation co-manage the park.
History of the petroglyphs
Native American tribes that lived or passed through the area carved the petroglyphs into the sandstone somewhere between 300 and 1,200 years ago. Stone tools and pottery found nearby show tribal groups occupied the area periodically throughout the last 8,000 years. And at the time, the nearby Cass River ran right next to the rocks. Plus, the area was considered a ceremonial site.
The more than 100 carvings include an eagle, hunter, turtle, handprints, water, panther, and thunderbird. One of the more interesting carvings is a series of dots that point due north.
Unfortunately, the petroglyphs are not in great shape. Visitors used to walk over the carvings, leave graffiti, and in some cases even cut out some of the carvings as souvenirs. The natural elements also contributed to much destruction over the years.
Visiting Sanilac Petroglyphs
Today, a covered pavilion and a fence helps protect the petroglyphs from both the elements and vandalism. During the day, a park ranger is available at Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park to explain the carvings. While the park is traditionally open dawn to dusk to walk the trail, the petroglyphs are only viewable during certain hours. (For 2021, please check the website for specific information on times and COVID visiting restrictions).
Besides the petroglyphs, Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park contains a one-mile hiking trail that crosses the Little Cass River. This self-guided tour takes you through a beautiful forest, across sandstone rocks, and past the remains of a 19th-century logging camp. You also can see the majestic 135-year-old white pine that sprouted after the massive 1881 fire in the Thumb region.
The Sanilac Petroglyphs are Michigan’s largest known group of ancient rock carvings. Smithsonian Magazine featured them as one of only eight places in the United States where you can see these special types of carvings.
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