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Prayer Flag Hill draws visitors to wonder about its meaning

Above Salt Lake City, on a part of the Bonneville Shoreline trail that overlooks the tony Upper Avenues neighborhood, there used to be a large rock heap over which various incarnations of prayer flags flew. Though it is not marked as such on Google maps, locals named the peak “Prayer Flag Hill.”

“If it is the place I am thinking of, I had heard that it was put there in memorial of a local woman who died at middle age, I think in a tragic way. The pile of rocks was there for years, people would add to it, the flags disintegrated and disappeared. Then, it was dismantled entirely. I don't know why it was taken down. I never saw it when it was new.” - Jessi Carrier, Salt Lake City

I hiked to Prayer Flag Hill often over the past several years and looked forward to pausing at the top to take in the view and face the four directions before I descended. I have two photos of the site, taken exactly one year apart in January 2010 and 2011 and they show the last build up of rocks on the site before it disappeared. The build up was impressive, probably exponential, possibly 4 fold.

A single rock mound became two mounds, both almost waist high, made up of a myriad of sizes of stones, some as large as briefcases and weighing 40 pounds or more. The mounds provided a substantial base for the deadwood used to suspend the prayer flags. Without them there was no place to hang the flags.

The later photo shows flags flying above the rocks that were not the traditional Tibetan prayer flags but bigger flags that looked like children made them with words like joy, love, compassion, peace and awareness written on them.

Then, sometime in the spring of 2011, everything on the site disappeared. Frequent 50 mph gusting winds up there or one of the big snowstorms of that winter could have easily taken out much of the site but the rocks were another story. Obviously those two mounds were deliberately dismantled with a lot of concentrated effort. Remarkably, even the largest of the rocks were flung far enough away to keep them away from being used again.

Lois Remington and her husband, Skip Gaynard ran or hiked to Prayer Flag Hill regularly during the recent, mild winter of 2011. “We’ve piled rocks on that spot during a trail run,” says Lois, “But when we come back on another run a week or so later, they were gone. This has happened several times.” “The prayer flags have been there since I began going up there, 10 or 12 years ago,” says Gaynard, “It’s kinda sad they’re gone. It always seemed like a respectful place. I wonder who’s being the Buddhist policeman?”

Maybe all this has to do with the Tibetan prayer flags themselves. After all, no rocks means no flags.
Prayer flags are an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism dating back to around 600 AD.

They are hung to bless the surrounding area in which they fly. Prayer flags are unknown in other branches of Buddhism. There two types of prayer flags, horizontal and vertical.
Lung Ta (horizontal) prayer flags are of square or rectangular shape connected along their top edges to a long string hung on a diagonal line between two objects (e.g., a rock and the top of a pole) in places such as mountain passes or, perhaps most famously, the Mount Everest base camps.

Prayer flags come in sets of five colors representing the elements from left to right in specific order: blue, white, red, green, and then yellow. Blue symbolizes sky/space, white symbolizes air/wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. In Tibetan medicine health and harmony are produced through the balance of the five elements.

“A little Buddhist aside: one of the purposes of prayer flags is to remind of us impermanence. That is why they are left out until they disintegrate. It sounds like whoever put that up originally may have scattered or hauled off the rocks once the flags were gone...supposition. It would be interesting to find out more.” Paula Evershed – Salt Lake City Upper Avenues long time resident

I asked Salt Lake City Open Space spokesman Brandon Fleming if his department might have had anything to do with the dismantling of the site on Prayer Flag Hill, he said, “I doubt it. I don’t know who would’ve done it.”

And so the mystery continues - someone is making every effort to keep the prayer flags off of Prayer Flag Hill.


+Ed Kosmicki

Photo Credit: Photo Source West

by Contributing Writer / Ed Kosmicki (March 11th, 2012)
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