PETROGLYPHS PROVINCIAL PARK, Ont. -- It's a magical place.
Half an hour north of Peterborough, deep in the woods off a side road, Kinomagewapkong, The Teaching Rocks, are housed in a small clearing, a sacred place that holds more than 900 carvings in one of the largest known collections of native carvings in North America.
They are quite simply amazing.
Carved untold generations ago, in one massive, curving, soft rock face of white, crystalline marble, there are carvings of turtles, birds, rabbits, trees, fish, people, symbols and shapes, some large, some tiny, overlapping in patterns only the carvers understood.
The carvings appear so simple, and they are breathtaking.
Three prospectors stumbled across the site in 1954, which is when word began to spread widely about their existence.
Petroglyphs Provincial Park was opened in 1976 by the Ontario government under the supervision of Curve Lake First Nation, to whom the park is a sacred place. Open only from early May to Thanksgiving, the park is located in deep woods in eastern Ontario's cottage country, about two hours northeast of Toronto, reachable off Highway 28 if you're driving Highway 7 from Toronto to Ottawa.
The carvings are housed in a high, glass-walled building to protect them from erosion. There is an elevated walkway around the rock face that allows for up-close examination of the carvings and viewing from every angle.
People whisper, as they would in a great cathedral. You won't be aware how much time has gone by as you slowly circle the entire exhibit.
The park guides aren't sure when the carvings were made, or by whom. The nearest fresh water is several kilometres away, and there are apparently no signs that a village ever sat at the site.
Dorothy Taylor, a member of Curve Lake First Nation, explains to visitors that the rocks themselves are a living body possessed with spirit. Native people pray, meditate, and hold traditional ceremonies at the site. They have year-round access, using snowmobiles to reach The Teaching Rocks when the park closes for the winter and the roads go unplowed.
There is a large interpretive centre about 300 metres from the building that houses The Teaching Rocks. Both are accessible by a flat trail accommodating wheelchairs or those with difficulty walking.
The park gate itself is 11 km off Highway 28, past cottages to an unassuming gate entrance, then along a meandering four-kilometre road through the forest within the park to the main parking lot.
There are three gorgeous hiking trails five to seven kilometres in length within the park, including one leading to the glacial McGinnis Lake.
More information about park hours can be found at http://www.ontarioparks.com/english/petr.html.