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.

 

 


A New Look at Trail Snacks and Backpack Foods

13 December 2014

Everyone has their favorite trail snacks and backpack foods. I thought that most of my choices were quite healthy these days (excluding the ramen and Cornuts). While most of my trail foods are healthy, it turns out that some of my choices are no longer healthy for me. I recently ran into some issues with some of the foods I have been eating for most of my life- including a lot of what I eat on the trail and in the bush. These days it seems that almost every other person you meet has some kind of food sensitivity- lactose, gluten, soy, peanuts, and so on. Well, I am joining that group. For me it is not that big of a deal, nothing that is life-threatening. It is more about how I feel after eating certain foods, both physically and mentally.

My changes start with cutting out some of the big culprits- gluten, peanuts, and lactose. It is not really that hard to do at home. But out in the desert at the back of the truck, or on the trail, it is a different story. I have started to make the changes in the snacks that I eat. From regular pretzels to gluten free pretzels, no more sesame sticks, no more fake jerky (made from wheat). I have switched the wheat-based “jerky” for actual turkey jerky sticks. And nearly all of my favorite bars are now off-limits. This includes Power Bars (now owned by Nestle and full of things I cannot pronounce), Kind Bars (peanuts in everything), and even Lara Bars (peanuts and gluten). To work around this problem, I did a search online for “gluten free energy bar recipes” and was immediately given over one million options for this part of my new diet. I am sure a few of those were repeats though, and I cut it down to about 5 recipes. From those, as I always do, I created  a couple of my own.

To summarise the process of my first try at custom energy bars, I started with pitted dates, a little warm water, and a food processor. Once I had the sticky paste to bind everything together, it was just a matter of adding my favorite flavors to it. It used flake coconut, almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries, dried currants, and added mini-chocolate chips to one of the bars. I also added a little sea salt, almond butter, blanched almond flour, and vanilla to the bar that I finished by baking. Next time I might try chia, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds, and maybe dried cherries. The list of ingredients is limited by what you prefer, and what you can find dried.

My first batch, after mixing, I just pressed into a plastic wrap-lined baking dish and chilled in the refrigerator. The other batch with more liquid and vanilla, I poured out, flattened and formed, and covered with almond flour. I then laid it on a piece of baking parchment and baked it at 250 degrees for about half an hour. The first batch, without the almond flour coating, were definitely a bit sticky. The second batch can be eaten without much mess. And both tasted great. The big test will be in warm weather- will they hold up in the heat, or will there turn to sticky, messy masses? I’ll let you know next summer.

Moving on to backpack meals, this will take some more time. I plan to go through all my recipes and just remove or swap out ingredients. And of course give them a try at home before I head into the bush. For me, again, there are not massive changes to be made. There will be some work on the staples- I’ll switch the standard ramen noodles with rice noodles and end up eating a lot more Vietnamese noodles soups. Fine with me. Rice and beans won’t need any changes- what luck! Pasta will be easy. At our local natural food store, Vitamin Cottage, they sell quinoa and corn pasta in all forms- penne and macaroni most importantly. Easy to change. The hardest thing for me is cutting out lactose- being a tea drinker, I have had a hard time there. But I am back to green tea for the most part. And then there is my hot breakfast recipe- mostly wheat. I’ll work on that.

On the positive side for me, with my menu changes I have noticed that I am not as hungry and am eating less. In the end this will help lighten the load a bit and make my walks even a little easier.

For more on our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.


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- San Rafael River Backpack

7 August 2014

I had a chance to spend a few days on the San Rafael River at the end of July. I went in on Monday and returned Wednesday evening. I was alone, so it was an out and back hike to Fuller Bottom, starting and ending at the San Rafael River bridge, about 15 miles each way. I looked up a few side canyons although conditions and time didn’t allow for much exploration. I will definitely need to go back. The walking was easy, the “trails” fairly clear and not too brushy, and it wasn’t terribly hot even though the forecast was calling for temps over 100 degrees.

I traveled light as usual foregoing even a sleeping bag this trip, taking a Golite nest for bugs and an Integral Designs Ultralight Bivy Sack and silcloth poncho. All in all these were good choices. Of course I had the usual backup lightweight ploypro top and pants, Golite Trinity raingear, and a couple of other items for safety. The only piece of gear I didn’t have and could have used was a PFD  (Personal Flotation Device), but more on that later.

San Rafael river canyon. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A sunny morning on the San Rafael River. Looking down canyon at the amazing geology of the region.

Fun With Weather
When I started walking on Monday my first river crossing, about one kilometer up river from the bridge, barely got the soles of my boots wet. I just hopped across the calm, clear river on exposed rocks. A few hours later when I had to cross over again I could tell the water had risen and was definitely more silty- there had been some rainfall far off to the west. Still, it was an easy crossing, with the water barely over my boots. I should mention that as part of my plan I retrieved my pair of OTB combat boots from the bottom of my gear closet- see my Escalante River Trek blog posts or Gear Review pages for more on those. I knew I would have to make some river crossings, and wasn’t sure how wet I would be, so I played it safe with these lightweight, quick dry boots with good drainage.

Monday night brought a few drops of rain, but nothing substantial. Tuesday was a calm, clear morning, ominously cool and quiet. Mid-day Tuesday I was at the point where the trail to Fuller Bottom branches off from the river, with about 2 kilometers to go to Fuller Bottom. I left my pack here and made a dash for the put in, but I didn’t quite make it all the way. As I made my approach on the road to Fuller Bottom I could hear thunder off in a couple of directions, but still felt safe enough to continue. I’ll summarise the events that quickly occurred over the next 15 minutes: the sky grew dark, the thunder became louder, lightning started flashing all around me, icy rain began to fall, then chunks of ice, then balls of hail, the rain became sheets of wind-blown rain, and visibility dropped to about 100 meters. What fun! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Flash flood in San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A drainage, dry an hour before, with water already quickly dropping.

Flash flood along San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The same drainage one and a half hours later. All you have to do is wait the storms out- don’t panic and try to make crossings. This is what gets people killed.

By the time all this happened I had found myself a dry, north-facing ledge to hide under; the storms came mainly from the south-southwest. Even though I was dry and safe, and I knew my pack was double-waterproofed (I use Sea to Summit ultralight silcloth pack liners), I was still a bit worried about it back there alone, tucked up under a juniper. My concern was not so much my pack itself, but being able to get back to it. My walk to this point had been up, down and through quite a few drainages that I knew were at this point filling up with water. I waited till the biblical squall had subsided and began making my way back towards my pack, curious to see what the drainages looked like. Sure enough, some of them had become raging torrents as the mesa tops were drained of the rain that had just fallen. Even the road I had just walked in on, dry 45 minutes before, was near waist-deep in water. What a storm. If you ever have the chance to safely view the outcome of storms like this, and see what flash floods are and can do, it is something not to be passed up. But again, do it safely. These storms can sweep you away in an instant, just as they do boulders, trees, and tons of other debris.

River flow graph for late July, 2014. From 2 to 100 CFS.

River flow graph for late July, 2014. From 2 to 1000 CFS in the course of 24 hours.

I’ll skip over the details of the walk back, but I made a few crossings that may have been safer with that PFD. My pack was where I left it. I retrieved it and started my return trip down the river. I had a plan to make it to a certain side canyon that evening, camp there, and explore it the next day. But that didn’t happen. A couple of hours later, another storm came, bigger than the previous, that kept me in place for the night. This was the storm that brought the river up to 1000 CFS from the 2 CFS that I started out with. There were no more river crossings to be done that day. The amount of water that fell from the sky, and then came raging down the river was astounding. The massive cascades of red water that fell from the previously dry and quiet canyon rims were deafening. The intensity of a storm like that really puts the power of nature into perspective. If you try to fight it, you don’t stand a chance.

The safe way to face a storm and flash floods like this is to simply find a high, dry if possible, place to spend some time. I was prepared to sit out the night under some cottonwoods; they offered some protection. But the storm passed, the sun came back out right at sunset, and the sky was clear overnight. The next day I continued down canyon, taking in the sights along the way, and wading a river that was again knee to waist deep.

So much for the weather details. The hike was a good one, but needed more time for the side canyons. Five or six days wouldn’t be too many. The access to the trailhead is an easy one, down a very well maintained. There is plenty of water on this hike (no need to carry too much on your back.) The “trail” is descent, though not technically maintained in any way- just by hikers, cows, and people on horses. There are lots of side canyons to explore, you might see some rock art along the way, and you will definitely see wildlife- bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons, wild turkey, a very large gopher snake, and deer were on my viewing list.

Bighorn sheep on the San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Curious bighorn sheep on the San Rafael River.

A few notes about walking rivers, something I have done a few times now. Plan to get wet. Waterproof everything. Use waterproof cases for your maps and camera. Make sure everything is secure before making crossings, especially if swimming. Remember to unbuckle waist and chest straps and remove one shoulder strap before water crossings- if you need to ditch your pack you don’t want to mess with buckles under water. Find good shoes or boots that will allow you to be wet, and somewhat comfortable.

A Visit to Green River
The San Rafael Swell is reached from the south through the town of Green River. Be sure to visit the town on your trip. Stop in for Mexican food either at the restaurant La Veracruzana, or the taco truck located next to the park in the old Shell station- good tacos and tamales can be found there. Green River Coffee is just down the street from either of these eateries, and if you are early enough they should be open. If you need water you can fill up at the back of the parking lot at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum right next to the river.  If their water is not on, the West Winds truck stop has spigots at the gas pumps. Starting in the late summer, you won’t want to miss the melons available all through town. I loaded up on them before returning to Colorado. If you are around in September you can enjoy the town’s Melon Festival.

For more on our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website. Next up: back to the San Juan River in mid-August.

 

 

 


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.

 

 


Tracking Update- A Weekend of Training

22 June 2014

I always start any post about tracking by stating that I do not consider myself an expert; it is just something that I enjoy doing. After a recent weekend in Wyoming with Joel Hardin and his team of instructors, and 26 other students of all tracking abilities, I can now safely classify myself as a novice tracker. My abilities have been put in perspective. But as I heard Joel say again and again, actual tracking never goes beyond the basic level. This means, in essence, that if you can see the sign, you can follow it. Joel’s entire philosophy is built on this- it’s all about “learning to see sign.”

The tracking weekend started Friday morning at 8 am. Friday ended for us at about 10 pm after a long, cool, wet day. And part of the night. After a morning classroom session, we tracked all afternoon, ate dinner in the field, then continued tracking in the dark. I have looked at tracks in the dark before, lying flat and examining them in oblique moonlight, or using my flashlight on them, and have clearly seen them better by moving myself or my light around at different angles and heights. But the exercise, and the entire weekend, took it far beyond any tracks that my son and I have “followed” before. In Joel’s courses you follow your sign, and you find every track. Not nearly every track, not most tracks, but every one. Joel and his team are proficient experts, and professionals. They train trackers to act the same way, to represent all trackers by being accountable professionals. Part of being a proficient, accountable tracker is found in “continuity of sign.” It means that if you are asked, in court say, to prove that you connected someone from Point A to Point B, you can do so. It means finding every track. In training, especially in the beginning, the idea is that you may be on your stomach, or moving around the sign line on your knees, taking as much time as necessary to positively identify each track. Eventually you are hunched over a bit doing the same thing. Then, some day, you are walking upright and following the track at a faster pace, one that allows you to close the gap between you and the person you are searching for. This is the ultimate goal.

Saturday found us in the field again, hunched over, on our knees, staring into the grass, and at times straining our eyes to find that one blade of grass that connected one track to another. There can be as many as 1800 “clues” per mile, that is, 1800 footprints or other pieces of sign connecting Point A to Point B. In Joel’s courses you are out there finding every one of them. A little excessive maybe? At the end of the day, or really at the beginning of the next day’s tracking when the mind and body and especially the eyes are fresh, it really begins to make sense. Even in the course of three days of tracking like this, my ability to see sign, at least on the surface we were operating in, increased greatly. One thing I did notice however, was that when our team transitioned from one tracking media, aka ground surface, to another, our tracking slowed considerably. It was like starting over again. To clarify, we were tracking across fairly level terrain, with fine-grained sandy soil covered by short grasses, bunch grasses, a bit of lupine and pasture sage. After a number of hours we started downhill and came to a wash lined with pine trees. The ground surface immediately changed to a deep bed of decomposing pine cones and pine needles. This was our first problem point, and where we had to “start over” learning about what to look for. My point here is that tracks and sign change with the terrain, ground surface, and slope of the ground. It is necessary to learn to see sign in all possible situations to be able to follow it.

By Sunday we were more confident in what we were seeing, whether it be in grasses, pine needles, or climbing up a slope. And on Sunday we were viewing sign that was now three days old and really seeing the difference from one and two days before. This was something that Joel and the other instructors really stressed to us- to watch the sign as it aged. They stressed “aging of sign” to us, and made it clear that sign ages visibly every 4 to 6 hours. Yet another factor that the mind has to process! By Sunday it really made sense though, and it was much easier to see that the tracks were 3 days old. Even a single blade of grass shows signs of aging- perhaps a small bruise where the edge of a boot has bent it. There may be a darkening, healing bend in the stalk of a pasture sag. And even with all the moisture, the very small, drying blades of grass that had been pulled up in the treads of the boot on Thursday afternoon were clearly visible. It is all there to be seen; you just have to look for it!

If you are interested in Joel’s classes, you can visit his website and learn more about tracking step by step. For those in the Boulder area interested in tracking, take a look at the Rocky Mountain Trackers, an organisation dedicated to keeping tracking alive. And as always, you can read more about us at the Desert Explorer website, including our own tracking thoughts and endeavors.