End of Summer Reflection- Canyons, Rock Art, Backroads, and Walled Cities

21 November 2016

It seems that summer has finally ended. We had our first snow of the year in Boulder county last week, signaling the official end of warm weather. It is always a tough time of year when I change from shorts and Chacos into pants, boots, and jacket.  But it is also a time when I look back on the summer that has ended and reflect on all the new things I have seen and the adventures I have had. This year included more time at Nancy Patterson Village, lots of exploration in Montezuma Canyon, a couple of trips into Grand Gulch, and plenty of time in smaller canyons and on dirt roads across southern Utah. More exploration of Cottonwood Wash revealed many ruins, rock art panels, and a few sets of moki steps. One of my favorite “discoveries”, and it may be just that as I have been unable to find references to it, was a series of stone alignments pointing to Spirit Bird Cave. And as always, there was more climbing around in Comb Wash.

Besides indulging in the archaeology of Utah, we did a “side trip” this year and looked at some very different, and more extensive cultural history. Although it requires another post entirely, which may or may not happen, I’ll at least mention our few weeks in Europe in September, most of it in Croatia. In summary: Roman ruins, defensive positions from the time of the Romans, Venetians, Turks, World War II, and the Balkan war of the 1990’s. There was Split, Dubrovnik, Zagreb, and many cities in between, a week on the Adriatic Sea and visits to many islands including the Isle of Vis, which was a partisan stronghold during World War II and was covered with the history and archaeology of the period, not to mention its Cold War history.

Dubrovnik, Croatia- view from wall surrounding the city looking towards the Adriatic Sea.

Dubrovnik, Croatia. Far from southern Utah, but an archaeological and historical dream. This view of the city’s rooftops is from the wall surrounding the city looking towards the Adriatic Sea. Many of the roofs are new- a relative term in a city over 1000 years old- having been destroyed by shelling from the Yugoslav Army and Navy during the siege of the city in late 1991.

Stone Alignments
Back to Utah and its stone alignments. I do not recall having found anything quite like these stone alignments before, at least in this area of southern Utah. Of course that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there.  They reminded me of Mayan roads we often encountered while working in the jungles of Belize; wide, clear pathways with rocks piled along the margins leading off through the jungle. Inevitably the paths led directly to another ruin.  In this case, upon finding the first alignment, I suspected it had something to do with the nearby power lines and the access roads leading up to them. But then I found a corresponding alignment parallel to the first. To make it even more interesting, the next finger to the east had the same alignments, parallel to those on the first. And the third finger, still further east, had more aligned stones, albeit not as neatly done nor as complete as the first two sets. The first two sets had neatly cleared “alleyways” in between the stacked stones, where the stones were likely taken from.

Finally, standing in the center of the alignments looking west brought your eyes directly to Spirit Bird Cave on the rim across the canyon. Not a coincidence, to be sure. And not a “roadway” per se, but more of a ritual or spiritual roadway perhaps, if we accept the importance of Spirit Bird Cave within the context of the local ritual complex.

stone alignment near Sprit Bird Cave, southern Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Stone alignment near Spirit Bird Cave, southern Utah. Spirit Bird is on the canyon rim off in the distance, directly in line with the stacked stones. Spirit Bird is slightly higher in elevation than the mesas the three alignments sit on.

 

Stone alignment near Nancy Patterson Village, southern Utah. Photo by Gerald trainor.

Same set of aligned stones, looking east toward the second finger of the mesa.

 

ritual pathways near Spirit Bird Cave, southern Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Alignment on the second finger, looking west towards the first finger and Spirit Bird Cave. The azimuth of the stones parallels those on the first finger and points directly to Spirit Bird Cave. This alignment had even larger stones than the alignments on the first finger, but not nearly as many stones in total.

 

Cottonwood Wash
Cottonwood Wash is an extensive drainage covering more than forty miles from the Abajo Mountains until it meets the San Juan River in Bluff. The drainage is rich in many ways- plants, animals, birds, geology, and of course archaeology. Like Comb Ridge, Cottonwood Wash is a favorite “standby” hike for us. During my October trip I hiked the wash a couple of days at a couple of different locations and as always found more than I bargained for. A number of ruins had the most perfectly faced cut stones I have seen in some time. Not only was the facing perfectly flat and smooth, all the exposed stones in the walls were on exactly the same plane. I expected to find the level and string used in building the walls among the pot sherds.

Moki steps, southeast Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

An array of moki steps. For some reason the ancient inhabitants created many ways out of the canyon at this location.

I also happened upon a very large cave with semi-subterranean structures. Unfortunately many of the structures had been dug out by looters, leaving the walls exposed. The cave also contained an array of hand prints- mostly yellow and green, but plenty of red as well.

Yellow hand prints, southern utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Some of the 200 hands in a large cave. Scale is 10 centimeters.

 

For more on our desert adventures, an introduction to the flora and fauna of Utah, and links to some of our favorite Utah-related books, visit the Desert Explorer website.


May and June in Southeast Utah- Nancy Patterson, Amtrak, and Grand Gulch

25 July 2016

We usually make a trip to southern Utah each year later in June, staying into July. This year we planned it so that trip was moved up to late May and into June. It made for more bearable and longer days at Nancy Patterson Village, and easier walking in the canyons later on. Of course there has been another trip since then where we enjoyed temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s.  We’ve had such a full summer so far there just hasn’t been time to get to a blog post until now.

Nancy Patterson Village
For the third season we spent a couple of weeks at Nancy Patterson Village doing archaeology. We finished the interior excavation of the room where we began in 2014. We have so much data at this point that it may take us into next summer just analysing and writing it all up. It was our assumption that our unit, being on the edge of the village, was late in date. We confirmed this, and we also confirmed our speculation that the room was built over an earlier midden. Our unit was in the eastern-most room of what I would call a patio group. The approximate size of the group is 13  by 13 meters. It is U-shaped, being open on the east side.

Collared lizards at Nancy Patterson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Working at Nancy Patterson Village would not be complete without our daily visits from collared lizards. Here a pair watches us from our backdirt pile.

Data collected from throughout the patio group indicate the earliest occupation is centered on the western side, or bottom of the “U”. The latest occupation appears to be our unit, the end room on the northern leg of the “U”. It is likely that the end room opposite us, to the south, is coeval with ours. There are other rooms and room blocks beyond our patio group out in the periphery; isolated rooms, those laid out in a linear fashion, and possibly an L-shaped group. These rooms are all unexcavated and the dates are unknown, but we assume they are closer to the date of our unit which was likely abandoned toward the “very end”, somewhere around the early to mid-1200’s. More about Nancy Patterson will be posted as we continue analysis and writing.

The young archaeologist at work. Nancy Patterson Village, Mesa Verde corrugated sherd being removed. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The young archaeologist at work at Nancy Patterson Village with a large Mesa Verde corrugated sherd from a post-abandonment artifact concentration just removed.

 

Amtrak as Part of Our Adventures
After our time at Nancy Patterson Village we had a few relaxing days at a couple of our favorite camps before Nicolai headed home. For those unfamiliar with the area around Interstate 70 north of Moab, a rail line roughly parallels the highway from Glenwood Canyon in Colorado to just past Green River in Utah, where it turns north toward Salt Lake City. The line is used by freight trains and by Amtrak as well. Since we hadn’t been on the train in a number of years, we decided to use it to get Nicolai back to Colorado. We boarded in Green River at about 8 AM and arrived in Glenwood Springs about noon where we met the missing member of our party (mom gets to hold down the fort when we are off in the bush.) The train ride, if there are no long delays, is scenic and enjoyable. You get to see a lot of country along this four hour stretch, and it’s best seen from the observation car. Unfortunately the trip back to Green River was not as quick nor as enjoyable. Just outside Glenwood Springs the train hit a truck which delayed us for about 4 hours. Believe it or not, the driver of the truck crawled out and walked away. The conductors on the train called it miraculous, and likened the train hitting a truck to a semi truck running over an empty soda can. The lesson- be careful at all railroad crossings, especially those without arms that come down to block traffic.

Amtrak train at Green River station, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Ready to board, green River station platform.

Grand Gulch
With Nicolai safely back in Colorado I had the next week or so to myself. So it was off to Grand Gulch for some alone time. I hadn’t been in Pine Canyon in some time, so I used it as my entrance. I parked at the drill hole at the end of the road and was in the canyon in no time. It’s a fairly easy walk all around- across the mesa, the climb in, and the walk down to Grand Gulch. I found the canyon very different from the previous trip about 7 weeks before. During our April backpack the canyon bottom was filled with water; we were faced with skirting around pools and hopping across water running down Grand Gulch. This trip, water was barely visible in the bottom of Grand Gulch. There were a few green, debris covered pools here and there that were of course drinkable, but it was like night and day compared with two months before. The weather was warming at this point, and the heat and lack of water ensured that I was the only one in the canyon- I didn’t hear or see anyone on this trip.

Ruin in Pine Canyon, southern utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Round ruin in Pine Canyon with very interesting architectural change in structure- due to available materials or aesthetics? Note vertical slabs down low, with regular, coursed masonry above.

I could go on as always, but will save it for another post. Next up- more on our new inReach SE, rock art in a boulder field, and parallel stone alignments leading the way to Spirit Bird Cave. For more on our desert adventures, gear reviews, and our archaeological endeavors, visit the Desert Explorer website.

 


Nancy Patterson Report, 2014- Long Overdue

25 October 2015

Let me apologise in advance to anyone who has been waiting to read more about archaeology at Nancy Patterson Village. But as I have noted in other posts, life in the physical realm takes precedence over “life” in cyberspace. This is becoming more and more the reality for me, which I feel is perfectly fine. No philosophical arguments will follow that statement. Instead, on to the archaeology. What follows is our report of fieldwork for the summer of 2014. There were no earth shattering discoveries. However there were plenty of exciting moments- the “ghost impression” of a metate that had been plastered in a floor and since removed, turkey egg shells, plenty of secondary refuse as fill between floors, and an interesting range of post-occupational stratigraphy inside the unit.

Below are the introduction and background of the paper. Click the link at the bottom of this page to open the full PDF of the paper. Permission to quote the paper is hereby granted so long as the work is properly cited. Finally, I apologise for the quality of a couple of the scans in the paper. I will try to update them with higher resolution scans.

Introduction

This paper will report on the findings and preliminary results of excavations of Unit R1 at Nancy Patterson Village, 42SA2110. Excavation and examination of artifacts took place over the course of 11 days, from 28 June through 08 July, 2014. Excavation was undertaken by Gerald Trainor and Nicolai Trainor, acting under Daniel Cutrone, project director of the Nancy Patterson Archaeological Project. Excavation focused on a single room in the southeast corner of the lower, floodplain pueblo of the site (Figure 1). Excavation began as a 1 by 1 meter unit on the interior of the room and was placed based on the exposure of the northwest, inside corner of two interior walls running east and south from this point. The unit was ultimately expanded to a 1 meter by 1.6 meter unit once the north-south trending wall was traced towards the adjacent plaza, and its adjoining east-west trending wall was discovered.

Background

Nancy Patterson Village is a large, multicomponent, temporally dynamic site spanning Basketmaker III through Pueblo III (AD 700- 1250) (Janetski and Hurst 1984; Wilde and Thompson 1988). The site is located at the confluence of Montezuma and Cross Canyons in San Juan County, Utah (Figure 2). Its location gave it not only access to water that flowed through the canyons and the wide canyon bottom floodplain for farming, but also potential control of traffic up and down Montezuma Canyon and eastward up Cross Canyon towards Hovenweep. The site consists of the commanding, mesa top component with its large viewshed and the floodplain component below and to the south. Views up and down Montezuma Canyon take in other dwelling sites, shrine sites, and petroglyph panels. The mesa top site was given the site identifier of 42SA2110 which is now used to refer to the entire Nancy Patterson Village, including the floodplain site.

The site is mentioned in early literature by Prudden (1903) during his exploration of the San Juan watershed. There are also references to Montezuma Canyon and its abundance of ruins by Cummings (1910), and other early archaeologists. Since that time investigation of the site has been undertaken by various archaeologists and students from Brigham Young University, and more recently by Cutrone and his students along with help from Blanding residents. The land on which Nancy Patterson Village sits is privately held and, being now more closely controlled, it is hoped also protected from further vandalism, looting, and damage.

NPROOM1_JULY2014_w_scans

 

 

 

 


Trip Report- August Family Trip and San Juan Float

22 September 2014

We took about two and a half weeks in August for our yearly, family desert adventure which included 6 days for yet another leisurely float of the San Juan River. This seems to be our most common family adventure, occurring almost every year, and it never gets old. As usual it was challenging at times (wind, rain, not enough ice!), and of course completely relaxing. Any time in the bush, away from the craziness of the world is good.

Panoramic view to the south of "train camp", one of our frequently visited camps in Utah. It has a great view of Westwater, the La Sals, and the railroad tracks.

Panoramic view to the south from “train camp”, one of our frequently visited camps in Utah. It has a great view of Westwater, the La Sals, and the railroad tracks from the cliff edge.

We made our way casually down to Bluff and the put in, beginning with a day in Green River for lunch from the taco truck, melons, and a look at a part of the abandoned Pershing Missile Launch Complex that we had not visited. Mia had not seen it at all, so it was an exciting experience for her, seeing a part of our Cold War history in person. Not to mention her first rattlesnake. We were at the radar site, taking a look in the lunch room, admiring the pink porcelain stove that was still sitting there. Right next to the stove, coiled and resting on a piece of fallen drywall, sat a small snake taking advantage of the cool lunch room. It didn’t even move; we stayed far enough from it so as not to disturb its rest, and backed out the door. They can be anywhere, so be careful crawling around in desert canyons and abandoned lunch rooms.

Green River Pershing Missile Launch Complex. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Inside view of one of the abandoned radar station buildings at the launch complex.

Once we reached the river it was the usual packing frenzy to get on the river as early as possible. It must look funny to people who stumble upon river runners packing, with gear strewn in seemingly random piles, half-filled dry bags lying about, and boat parts, paddles, and PFD’s hanging off the truck. But there is a method, and it all fits in its place perfectly in the end. I am always amazed at how much gear can go into a dry bag, and how much we take along in our little boats.

Aire duckies ready to go on the San Juan river. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Our duckies, and Mia and Nico, ready for the 6 day trip. It’s amazing how much they hold and how stable they are.

I won’t say much about the float, other than it was perfect. The weather was mild for the most part, the river was low, and therefore quite clean, until the last day. On our last night there were storms off to the southeast and we woke to a river that had risen about 2500 CFS, making the last day was a quick float down to Mexican Hat. Along the way we visited some of the usual sites, trying to alternate as there are so many, and trying to add new stops to our itinerary as well. Butler Wash, River House, and Baseball Man were a few of the stops. There was much sitting around, enjoying cups of tea, the sound of the river, the play of light on the canyon walls as the sun moved across the sky. As usual we took along a trip book- a set of blank pages, mostly Mohawk, but some Arches and  Stonehenge (paper brands) for writing, drawing, painting, and gluing. On all of our trips we create a visual  and written journal, adding scraps of paper to it- receipts, food wrappers, permits, and eventually photos from the trip. Once we are home we bind them and they go on a special shelf full of books of our adventures.

Baseball Man panel, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Baseball Man panel, one of our favorite hikes from the river.

After the float we had a goal (unmet) of finding roast mutton and frybread. We drove south to Monument Valley, hoping to find a roadside vendor, but were out of luck. We traveled on to Kayenta and searched there, but again without success. Down in the Shiprock area it’s easy to find, but not so in the Monument Valley area. We settled for Mexican food at the Amigo Cafe, a good choice. We stayed in Kayenta for the night to clean up after the trip and prepare for the next week of travel. The Wetherill Inn is our favorite motel in Kayenta, always clean, quiet, and offering a good night’s rest.

Before leaving we took Mia to the Code Talker exhibit at the Burger King, and visited the Shade House Museum next door. Nicolai and I have visited there a few times, but Mia had never seen it. The Burger King has a few well-presented cases full of donated items brought back from the Pacific theater, and the Shade House has even more. The Shade House has the PBS documentary on the Code Talkers playing continuously- if you have the time sit and watch it. It is an amazing piece of history, very informative, and something that everyone should know about. The Shade House also displays and explains a bit about the history and life of the Navajo people, not just about their WWII service.

After Kayenta, we headed north again with time in Montezuma Canyon and the Nancy Patterson site, and a drive through Lisbon Valley. A few days in Moab, and two days in Grand Junction ended our trip. For more on our desert adventures visit the Desert Explorer website.

 


Trip Report- July, 2014- Excavation at Nancy Patterson Village

5 August 2014

Nicolai and I spent another two weeks in some of our favorite places in southeast Utah in late June and early July. The weather was normal for this time of year- hot, dry, and windy. There was no rain to speak of, and likely none coming for a while. We made it to the San Juan River on a few afternoons for a swim, and also to the Blanding pool a couple of times. We spent the Fourth of July in Blanding, enjoyed the great selection of food at their celebration, and the fireworks later that night. I have to mention that we had the best Fourth of July food there- roast mutton and fry bread, Navajo tacos, and chil chin (in Navajo), or red berry soup. That was a treat! We hiked a couple of days, as we had time, along the San Juan and in Comb Ridge, and camped at a few of our favorite spots. Favorite spots are easy to find in southeast Utah (they are just about anywhere we go.)

Collared lizard. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Collared lizard that was very curious about our excavation. There were many of them out and about this summer.

Nancy Patterson Village
The highlight of our trip was the archaeology of Nancy Patterson Village. We spent 10 days focused on excavation at the site, examination of the artifacts, and formulating a draft report. We will post a separate blog on the excavation as the report comes together, but we give a brief account here. Nancy Patterson Village is a Pueblo III (AD 1100- 1250) with underlying P II (AD 900-1100) habitation. It is located in Montezuma Canyon and at its height had some 300 rooms with as many as 30 associated kivas. There are two distinct parts to the site- the upper, mesa-top ruins and the lower, flood plain ruins.  Culturally it is related to nearby Mesa Verde.

Nicolai in our excavation unit- Nancy Patteson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nicolai the archaeologist in our unit- living the dream of the 9-year-old.

The goal of the current excavation at Nancy Patterson Village is the definition of architecture on the outside edge of the lower, flood plain settlement area. This area is considered to be the latest construction at the site, and therefore is assumed to have the shortest occupation sequence. Excavation defines not only the physical, spatial boundaries, exposing the actual walls and floors, but tells us the temporal boundaries as well- how long the structure was in use. Charcoal samples taken from three separate levels, the earliest found in the fill below the first floor, will give us an idea of the construction date and the date of final use, now assumed to be about 1275 ACE. The occupation sequence of our unit is confirmed to be later based on the pottery we found as we excavated. All of the pottery was later, Mesa Verde style pottery.

Mesa Verde corrugated wares at Nancy Patterson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Mesa Verde corrugated wares from our Level 2, found directly on our final floor. There appear to be 3 distinct jars, with some shards showing intense burning that likely did not occur during normal use.

We found a number of interesting features in our unit, including what appeared to be “post-abandonment” (happening at some point after the room fell into disuse) burning and pottery left on the final floor. We found numerous lenses of charcoal, some of which may have been hearths within the room. We also found the masonry outline of a metate, a grinding stone that had been imbedded in mortar in a corner of the floor. The outline of the metate was clear, and the small, flat pieces of sandstone embedded in mortar that were used to level and secure the metate were still in place. Finally, if the fill under the floors is an indication of the intensity of occupation, that is, if there is more trash in the floor fill we can assume the was more trash to use as fill, this tells us that there was likely more going on to create that trash. The fill under the floor about mid-way down was replete with artifacts- pottery, flakes, cores, hammer stones, part of an axe, and a mano were all found in a very small area.

Metate impression on top of floor. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Metate impression on our earliest floor. The small pieces of sandstone used to level the metate are still imbedded in the masonry on the floor. Most of our artifacts were found on top of this floor and were used as fill under the floor above.

Salmon Ruins
Besides the excavation, we made a side trip down to Salmon Ruins near Bloomfield, New Mexico. It had been years since I visited there; Nicolai had never been. Seeing the excavated and consolidated ruins made for a good contrast with Nancy Patterson Village. Salmon is a large pueblo located near the San Juan River. It has two distinct occupation sequences- its initial construction by Chacoan peoples around 1090 ACE, followed by a period of decline and depopulation by about 1125 ACE (referred to as abandonment in the literature at the site- but I am not a fan of that word.) The second distinct occupation begins about the same time and ends around 1280 ACE. The second group of inhabitants come from the San Juan area and some of the literature indicates there are distinct ties to Mesa Verde.  One argument for this relationship is the distinct change in architecture, including the shape, size, and location of kivas, resembling those of the Mesa Verde region more than the Chaco region.

Look for more about our excavation later this year. Once the weather turns cold, we will focus on writing. In the meantime, we are planning our San Juan trip in late August. For more about the archaeology of the southwest and our desert adventures, see our earlier blog posts or visit the Desert Explorer website.

 

 


Stone Tools From the Northern San Juan Region

17 April 2014

Over the years, with so many visits to archaeological sites and so many walks through the desert, I have seen countless numbers of stone tools. One tool that has been catching my eye recently on many hikes in southern Utah is the large biface- both the handaxe or oval (or ovoid) biface, and choppers. Biface? Handaxe? Chopper? What is the difference?  For many archaeologists, arguments on the technicalities will never cease. Just as there is regional variation in the stone used to make a tool (and plenty of debate over what it should be called), there is regional variation in what to call the tool made from the stone.  But here are a few quick definitions based on those in An Introduction to Flintknapping by Don Crabtree and The Old Stone Age by Francois Bordes. Also see Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools by John Whittaker for a complete and thorough examination of stone tools.

Fine ovel biface from the Northern San Juan region. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A rather large oval biface found on our last Utah trip in the Northern San Juan region. The biface is approximately 18 cm long by 9 cm wide by 7 cm thick. It is made from a yellow quartzite and was found in the center of a large pueblo site. Scale in all photos is in centimeters and all artifacts are surface finds.

Biface– an artifact bearing flake scars (the evidence left behind as flakes have been removed during the creation of the tool) on both sides.
Handaxe– Pear-shaped or ovoid stone tool that is bifacially worked.
Chopper– A heavy core tool presumed to be used for chopping. May be uniface (worked on one side) or biface.
Core– A mass of material often pre-formed by the worker, and from which tools are made; the piece you strike to make the tool.
Debitage– The residual lithic material resulting from tool manufacture; the waste material from the tool making process.

Stone axe head from Northern San Juan region. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A well-used ground stone axe head. Note shape of axe head- smaller and thinner in the center to allow for hafting, in this case a “full groove”, the groove going all the way around the head. Also note the perfectly formed flat face, or “poll end” opposite the bit end. This was an isolated, canyon bottom find from the Northern San Juan region. Approximately 10 cm in length.

For practical purposes I will refer to these tools as “large bifaces” unless otherwise noted. And maybe that is why they are so easy to spot? It is all about their size- large tools are easy to spot as isolated finds and are easy to see in a scatter of lithic debitage. Many of the examples I have found recently, and finally started photographing, show signs of use. Many of the isolated finds also appear to be more expedient, and therefore may have been expendable tools. That is, they may have been made at or near the place where they are found from readily available material, what some refer to as “casual tools” as opposed to “formal tools”. This would make sense- pick up a piece of material, create the tool you need, use it, and discard it. It would be interesting to map out the location of some of these isolated tool finds and locate the nearest popular source for raw material used, thus adding credence to the theory that they were more local, expedient tools.

Chopping tool from Northern San Juan region. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Small chopping tool made from rounded cobble. This piece was bifacially flaked only on one side. From a midden in Northern San Juan Region. This might be considered more of a “casual tool”.

Another consideration for the toolmaker is that curation of lithic material, that is, traveling somewhere to collect the material and returning to your home with it, takes time and energy. Consider carrying a bundle of large cobbles or cores across the desert 800 years ago, without a pickup bed to toss them in. Or trading for them- either way work, and possibly considerable work, is involved on the part of the recipient of the material. Using finer raw materials for larger cutting tools may not have been preferable- the good stuff was likely saved for finer, smaller implements. Larger chopping tools and handaxes were likely made from local materials that were readily available.

Chopper from Glen Canyon area. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A large oval biface we found in the bottom of one of the Irish Canyons in North Wash while canyoneering. This was an isolated find, and the tool had likely been washing down canyon for some time based on the amount of post-depositional wear visible.

But let’s be careful about conjecture; I find an abundance of large tools and see few small ones while walking in the desert. Did the ancient inhabitants of the region prefer large tools over small? Probably not. A more likely explanation could be that modern hikers would rather carry home a small, beautifully made projectile point than a large, cumbersome chopper. The former would be less obtrusive sitting on the desk at home. Twenty or thirty years ago I might have found more projectile points, as there may have been more to find. Again, it is all just conjecture, and there are always alternatives.

With that statement made, please leave stone tools and other artifacts in place! “Collect” them in photographs. Carry a scale or small ruler to help show dimensions. Remember that every artifact removed from its original context is a piece of the archaeological puzzle that is missing forever, making the archaeological record a little less complete.

For more on southwestern archaeology and our desert adventures scroll through our blogs or visit the Desert Explorer website.


Spring Break Trip Report- March 2014

6 April 2014

We have just returned from one if the most memorable Spring break trips in years. The trip included some of our usual endeavors- seeing rock art and ruins, a bit of gold panning, hiking along Comb Ridge, and plenty of exploring of dirt roads around southeastern Utah. It also included new adventures: a visit to Oljeto, on the Navajo reservation, to see the trading post where the Wetherills lived and then a drive down to the now defunct Piute Farms Marina at what was once part of Lake Powell.

Piute Farms waterfall. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Piute Farms waterfall, about two miles below Clay Hills takeout, March 2014. The river below actually looked like a river. There were few signs that the lake had made it this far up the channel in years.

We also stopped in at Hite “Marina” (can you have a marina without water?) to take a look at the lake level on our way towards Hanksville. We drove down the boat ramp only to find that we could keep driving all the way across what used to be the lake right to the edge of the Colorado River. And it did look like a river- cutting down through the accumulated silt of the past 50 years and making its way toward the ocean. Looking down river, there was no lake in sight! Looking up river, the Dirty Devil was a muddy little stream braiding its way through the silt and into the Colorado. I can’t help but wonder how long it will take to clean out all that silt…. But more on that in a future blog.

Colorado River at Hite Marina. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The Colorado River, at Hite Marina. Looking down river, as it makes its way to the ocean.

Silt plain that was once Lake Powell. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

I hope this adds a bit of perspective to what is going on at Hite Marina. This photo was taken at the edge of the river, where I stood when I took the top photo, looking back over the silty, tumbleweed-scattered plain that was once the bottom of Lake Powell. That is our Landcruiser in the middle distance, with the boat ramp far off in the photo.

Back to the archaeology for now. One of our early stops was just outside Blanding to look at a few rock art panels and nearby ruins. We met up with a group of archaeology students, their “tour” leader Daniel Cutrone, the Principle Investigator at the Nancy Patterson site in Montezuma Canyon and professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, and our friend Madalyn from the Edge of Cedars Museum in Blanding.

Nancy Patteson site. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A central view of the Nancy Patterson site, showing excavated walls and many of the mounds that make up the possible 300 rooms of the site.

Daniel, Madalyn, and their crew kindly took us along on their outings to a few unnamed sites, the Nancy Patterson site, Spirit Bird Cave, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Edge of Cedars Museum. We were joined on one of the days by Sally Cole, author of Legacy on Stone, among other titles. What a treat it was to look at rock art and not have to pull out our copy of her book for interpretation- all we had to do was listen! The best part for both Nicolai and I was when we were asked if we wanted to return in the summer to be part of the ongoing excavation of the Nancy Patterson site. I haven’t done any excavation in years, and definitely welcome the return to the dirt. For Nicolai, I think it is a dream come true. For more on the Nancy Patterson site, ongoing excavation, and field work possibilities, see the Shovelbums Website.

We spent a few days in Poison Spring canyon, as we often do, enjoying the sites there and some of the slot canyons accessible from the canyon bottom. Next we drove on to Green River town. In and around Green River we explored the abandoned U.S. Army Pershing missile launch complex. What an adventure that was!

Green River missile launch complex. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The guard shack and associated buildings at one of the main parts of the Green River launch complex.

Abandoned around 1979, the buildings are in a serious state of decay, with doors falling off or missing, fences broken down from power poles falling on them- the power poles having been chopped down by looters stealing the copper wire strung between them! Ceilings had fallen in, windows were mostly broken out, and nearly everything that could be carried away had been. And the few things left on site were well smashed up and thrown into piles in corners. It was perfectly post-apocalyptic in look and feel, including a grey, overcast sky above us. While exploring I kept expecting to round a corner to find a growling pack of ferrell dogs, or maybe zombies, or at least a boy and his father resting as they made their way down The Road. Perhaps that was us?

Tent city concrete pads. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The concrete pads, perfectly aligned and dressed right, at what is referred to as the “tent city” outside Green River.

Bunker near Green River, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nicolai next to the bunker at the weather missile launch pads.

Either way, let it be known that we never crossed a fence, or a building threshold, as it is still government property and clearly marked as of limits… in a couple of places at least (most of those signs appear to have been stolen.) If you go, be sure to view it from afar.  We spoke to a local deputy who warned us that theft and vandalism have ramped up recently and that they are watching the sites. I have only touched on this marvel of modern science, warfare, our military-industrial complex, and our cold war history. Volumes could be written about it- not by me however. But I do plan to write a full blog about the site, and the Pershing and weather monitoring missiles launched from it in the near future.

Missile launch pad near Green River, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

One of the main launch pads, with rolling building still in place. There are two other, identical pads, both without the building or even the rails that it rolls on.

For now, we are planning our summer fieldwork, a family backpacking and exploring trip, and a solo trip for me. The summer promises to be a full one- be sure to get out and enjoy it. And watch out for rattlesnakes, they are already out. For more about snakes, and our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.