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.

 


Another Spring Break in Canyon Country

21 April 2016

We have just returned from southern Utah once again. It was a late spring break for us, but well worth waiting for April to make the trip. The weather was perfect right up till the end, when we caught a bit of the storm that brought winter back to Colorado. We spent our two weeks in the usual places, revisited some of our favorite canyons, and explored some new ones. We made it a point to include plenty of time enjoying sunrises, sunsets, and the star filled night sky, and more than a few afternoons sitting on the slickrock with a cup of tea.

Blooming holly. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Holly in bloom. The desert was alive with color and fragrance.

Our itinerary brought us straight to southern San Juan county this time. We made an afternoon stop in Moab for final supplies as always, but the weather was so perfect that Moab was too busy for us. April is the perfect time of year for most people- warm days and not too cool nights, without the extreme heat that comes in another month or so. Besides ATV’s and other off-road vehicles, there were mountain bikes everywhere, and more RV’s and camp trailers to be found around every corner than I have ever seen. This was the case everywhere we went- down every road whether it be along Comb Ridge, on Cedar Mesa, or around Green River, where we finished up our trip.

Grand Gulch
We did get a few days of backpacking in this trip. We walked in through Dripping Canyon, had a day in Grand Gulch, and walked out Step Canyon. This is something I have done before, so knew the walk quite well. It was perfect for Nicolai and I- nothing an 11-year-old couldn’t handle. As always, we could have used a couple more days in this short stretch of the canyons- there was just so much to see that we had to choose where to spend our time. For anyone venturing in any time soon, water was not a problem. At least finding drinking water that is. From another perspective, that of walking, it was quite a problem in places. There was so much water in the canyons that we found ourselves skirting pools all along the walk, and especially in Grand Gulch.

Yellow ancestral puebloan pictograph in Grand Gulch, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

“Yellow Man” panel in Grand Gulch.

Cedar Mesa was a busy place. The Kane Gulch ranger station was packed on the few occasions we stopped in. But once we got in the canyons we only saw, and heard, one group of people. I should say heard more than saw them. Their presence was known to us by their extremely loud voices, yelling I would call it, and their crashing wildly through the brush. We made it a point to discuss this problem with the folks at the ranger station after our walk- noise pollution is  a problem everywhere and especially in such a place as this. I feel that these days so many people don’t know the difference between a place that is… sacred, and say, the grocery store. The analogy I like to use is that I would not come bounding and crashing and yelling into your church, so please don’t come into mine that way. But I suppose, to continue the analogy, I am preaching to the choir here.

Comb Ridge
We have a favorite camp in view of Comb Ridge making it easy to get into the canyons there. We spent five nights on the slickrock at that camp, really enjoying the night sky. I have to make a plug here for one of my more recent equipment purchases. I have been sleeping better than ever these days on an Exped SynMat 7 Sleeping Pad. This inflatable sleeping pad has an integral pump which inflates it in just a couple of minutes. No blowing it up by mouth involved! I have the synthetic fill version which is rated at an insulation value of 4.9, but there is a higher rated pad that has down filling.  I use it at the truck and on the river- it’s just too heavy for me to carry on a backpack. The pads are not cheap, but if you are struggling with getting a good night’s sleep on a thinner pad, you may want to give one a try.

We spent a couple of days exploring Comb Ridge, and as always found more ruins and rock art, middens and moki steps, sweat lodges and seasonal campsites. Comb Ridge is truly a place where one can learn about the varied archaeology of the Northern San Juan region all in one place. One ruin we visited stood out in the amount of mud that was plastered on the walls. The ruin lacked for stone, but still held together well with mud. Looking at it you could see the way it was applied, in great masses, each appearing to be left to sag and dry before the next mass was applied. The interior of the walls had niches built-in, and the end walls were curiously rounded, as if they were not continued across the front, but were left open.

Ancestral Puebloan structure in Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Comb Ridge ruin with walls lacking in stone but showing an abundance of mud.

Ancestral Puebloan dwelling in Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

End wall of plastered ruin showing rounded finish. Note the thick mortar beds between the thin pieces of sandstone.

There is always so much to see, and to write about afterwards, on our Utah trips. But for now it’s back to preparation for the next trip. In about a month we are back in southern Utah for more archaeology at Nancy Patterson Village. For more about us and our desert adventures visit the Desert Explorer website.


This Way Down, and An Update From Moab

20 March 2016

We have been spending a lot of time in Comb Ridge in recent years, stopping in for a few hikes on nearly every trip. We have been in many of the drainages along the southern end, starting at the highway. But there are many more summer’s worth of hikes towards the north. One specific goal this summer is to find at least one of the crossovers into Comb Wash from the Butler Wash side. I understand that there are a couple of them. And I have a suspicion that we may have been in one of the drainages that leads to the other side. A few summers back we here high up one of the canyons, walking up canyon, when we found a small petroglyph panel that had a large ladder-looking inscription. To me it looked just like a kiva ladder. Did the ladder signify to travelers that they could climb down the other side if the followed this particular drainage? This is a question I would like to answer, to see if this was an ancient signpost saying “this way down”.

Kia ladder petro. Image by Gerald Trainor.

Kiva ladder petroglyph from a canyon along Comb Ridge. Scale at right of image is 10 cm.

Update From Moab
We were in Moab in January when news broke about the closing of another missing person case. On the evening of 19 November, back in 2010, Ranger Brody Young was checking on a car parked at the Poison Spider trailhead. The person in the car opened fire on him, hitting him nine times. Range Brody returned fire and apparently hit the suspect as he fled. The suspect’s car was found within a few miles, but he was not found. A manhunt ensued, but was unsuccessful in locating the suspect. Now, five years later, the body of Lance Arellano has been located. A college student home for the Christmas holiday and his younger brother did a systematic search of the area where the suspect was last known to be, and found his remains.  The brothers will split the $30,000 reward. You can read more about the incident on the Moab Times website.

You can read my original blog post and subsequent updates at the Desert Explorer Blog. For more on the 1998 Four Corners Manhunt or all of our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Summer Is Coming, and There Is So Little Time

12 March 2016

It has been many months since I have written a blog post. There is no possible way to catch up on all the desert adventures we have had in that time. To mention of few of them, we spent a week in the San Rafael Swell area, went for another San Juan River float with incredible rain fall and flash floods along the way, did more excavation at Nancy Patterson Village, spent weeks in and around Moab, had many long, solo runs down roads and trails, did lots of canyon hiking, backroad driving, and general exploration of southeast Utah. Last year was a great year overall, and this year proves to be much the same. We have already taken two trips to the desert, and our next is just a few weeks away- spring break is just around the corner!

One of the highlights of last year was the San Juan River. I did that trip solo, and so had no real schedule other than to float down the river. I did a few hikes up side canyons, all of which I’d had in my mind to do for some time. There was a huge storm a few days into the trip- I put in at about 400 CFS and took out just over 8000 CFS. It made for a really fun float to say the least. I have never seen so many pouroffs running at the same time. The sound that came with it was deafening at certain locations along the river.

River flows during my October, 2015 San Juan River float.

River flows during my October, 2015 San Juan River float.

As I noted above, I did some side hikes along the way . One canyon I visited had countless ruins in it. I could have spent days exploring, but was happy to have a long day to walk up and back. Many of the ruins I saw were completely inaccessible without technical gear to get in. Needless to say, I enjoyed them from the opposite rim or canyon bottom for the most part.

Ruin along the San Juan River, utah.

One of the smaller ruins I was able to climb up to. It was so perfectly square and plumb, it left me wondering how we have so many problems with our own residential building today. The very distinct foundation was an interesting feature as well, being offset by the plaster that was still in place.

After finishing up on the river I spent five days along Comb Ridge. I am slowly making my way through all the canyons, seeing at least a few of them on each trip to the area. As always there was so much to see, and the time I had to see it in really seemed inadequate. I found a few small structures along the way that appeared to be sweat lodges. I have found a few of these at the mouths of the canyons, out near Butler Wash, and a couple of them up in higher ends of canyons. Most are small, however one that I came across on this trip did seem more like a shelter than a sweat lodge.

Sweat lodge along Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

What looks to be a sweat lodge at the mouth of one of the Comb Ridge canyons.

I won’t go into the Nancy Patterson archaeology here, but save it for another post. My report is nearly done, and I plan to upload it again in a blog, as I did with the 2014 report. No promises when that will come… but it will be by May when we head over for this year’s excavation.

In the meantime see the Desert Explorer website for more on our desert adventures, our gear preferences, and plenty of book recommendations. I have been spending a lot of time updating the site, adding current links where they were broken, and doing my best to update information that I haven’t revisited in many years.


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

 

 

 

 


Learning About Uranium, Radiation and Atomic Weapons

9 June 2015

This blog was written by Nicolai after our spring break trip and is reposted here from his own blog.

It all started while I was looking at the uranium mill tailings pile in Moab, Utah. I started thinking about the cold war and Geiger counters. I then asked if we could get one. It was a big commitment- we had to get numerous books on radiation and learn about the different types of radiation. There was also the problem of “what Geiger counter should we buy?” We settled on a CDV-715 but it turned out to be a background radiation meter. The difference was that the  CDV-715 did not have a Geiger Muller tube.

Nicolai conducting survey near Moab. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nicolai conducting radiation survey near Moab, Utah. UMTRA project in background.

The Geiger Muller tube is one of the main characteristics of a Geiger counter. It is what traps the radiation particles (beta and gamma) the two types of radiation a CDV-700 can detect. The CDV-700 is a true Geiger counter. It has the Geiger Muller tube as well as a phone jack to listen to the number of counts and it has a wand that the Geiger Muller tube sits in. Now comes the fun part of doing the tests!

Nicolai conducting radiation survey near Halchita, Utah. Photo by Gerals Trainor.

Nicolai conducting radiation survey near Halchita, Utah. Waste cell is visible in background.

Our first test was in Moab at the uranium mill tailings. We had driven up to a sign board talking about the UMTRA project (Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action.) They are now moving the tailings to a waste disposal cell in Crescent Junction where it will be covered up to decompose. We then got out the Geiger counter and set it up. We walked as close as possible to the barbed wire fence and started our test. We started on Gamma which only comes from uranium and other materials that are used in making A-bombs. The result of the gamma test was 30 milliroentgens per hour.  Next we did Beta which is found in pretty much everything. The result for Beta was 31 milliroentgens per hour. That trip we did 13 tests total, some of which where background  radiation tests. We did all the tests close to the ground or on the ground also we did almost all the tests in the Morrison formation where all of the uranium comes from. Our conclusion for all of the tests is that the radiation levels we found at waste  and mine sites are not different from background radiation levels. Our next trip will be to Nevada where we hope to do some more tests soon.

Warning sign, Green River, Utah waste cell. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Warning sign, Green River, Utah waste cell. Waste cell behind sign.