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

 

 

 

 


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.

 

 


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.

 

 


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.

 


2014- A New Year of Adventures Lies Ahead

28 January 2014

The new year is upon is and it is time to start planning our desert adventures for the year.  Our first trip is less than two months away- Nicolai and I will make our usual spring break trip in mid-March. Writing about it makes is seem closer, like it’s just around the corner. And my philosophy is that it’s never too early to begin planning and preparing.  It also makes me feel closer to the desert, and not just closer to the next trip- pulling out my packs and checking them over, finding something left in the bottom of one; a pair of gloves, a fuel bottle, a bunch of sand, and some dried willow leaves- this puts me back in the canyons. It places me where I belong, living my purpose in life. All else is just incidental, tasks and goals that lead to my purpose.

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

Bighorn sheep along the San Juan River.

Now, with the deep philosophical thoughts out of the way, on to the plans. This year we are planning more backpacking. Nicolai is now tall enough and strong enough to carry a larger, heavier pack (heavier, but not heavy). He can carry more of his own equipment, clothing, and food. This will make it easier on me and allows us to stay out longer. Of course he has his own set of the lightest gear we can find- a Golite quilt, an extra-small Therm-a-Rest Prolite pad, titanium cup, and so on. This all helps.

We have also added to our backpacking food supplies with dehydrated and freeze dried foods from Costco and a couple of other places, making our food a little lighter as well. Costco.com has a pretty extensive selection of long-term storage foods, some of which are backpacking ready. Be sure to note before you buy them if the meals are individually packaged, or bulk packaged. You may have to measure and repack them into smaller portions. A couple of other online vendors are Augason Farms and My Patriot Supply. Much of what you will find is dehydrated, and again, often in bulk. There are plenty of options out there besides these few. Just do a little searching.

beartrack

An old bear track in Jones Canyon. It is found in dry mud, but still must have been a big one for the area.

Most of the meals we currently use are things we mix up ourselves using ingredients we dehydrate and those we purchase at our local natural foods store. The majority of our recipes are largely based on those in The Back-Country Kitchen by Teresa Marrone. But we have amended many of the meals in her book, and created more of our own. You can read more about our meals and see some recipes on our Backpack Foods pages at the Desert Explorer website. They are definitely cheaper, but not necessarily lighter than packaged, freeze-dried backpacking meals. The Costco additions bring the weight down some. The only possible drawback might be the Costco-sized packages, buckets in many case, that you have to buy. Be sure to consider the shelf-life of the foods, and if you will be able to use it all within a reasonable amount of time. If you take one trip a year, the meals might last you a long time, or even go bad before you use them, depending on how you repackage them. But for us, backpacking, hiking, and floating throughout the year, they will be used up.

Another focus for the new year is tracking. Really it is just a continuation of what we are already doing. Lots of reading, studying, research, and whenever we are in the bush, finding tracks and following them. That is the extent of our “training” so far. I have never taken any sort of tracking class, but this year I am planning to do so. Joel Hardin offers classes around the west, and one is offered near us later in the year. I think it’s time to learn from a professional. In the meantime, we will continue with our practices which have taught us well so far.

Next on the blog list- gear reviews. We have yet another outdoor gear retailer with their headquarters now in Boulder. Fjallraven, the Swedish gear maker, has also opened a retail store very near us. We have recently purchased a Primus 2-burner propane stove and I have tried out a pair of their trekking pants. Reviews to follow. Until then for more on our adventures, tracking, and kids in the wilderness look over some of our older blogs, or visit the Desert Explorer website.


Trip Report- November in Southeast Utah

28 November 2013

We usually end our hiking season in September at the latest, but that may change to November now based on our recent trip to the desert. Weather was our primary concern- we did not want to be snowed in, stuck in the tent sitting out storms. But luck was with us- the sky was clear and the days were warm, even hot, for nearly our entire trip. It was so warm that side blotched lizards and what I think was a striped whipsnake were still out! We timed our return perfectly and travelled back over the mountains just before the cold and snow returned to Colorado. Next November may not be the same, but if we can stretch our season and spend more time in the desert, we’ll certainly try a late trip again.

Striped Whipsnake. Photo by Gerald Trainor

What I think is a rather dark Striped Whipsnake. This photo was taken on November 15th along the San Juan river. All I have read about them says that they den up by mid-October. Not this year. This snake was high up though, right along a cliff face and getting ready to sleep for the winter.

Most of our time was spent around Bluff and along the San Juan River once again. Nicolai and I hiked nearly every day and re-visited a couple of sites, but mostly explored new areas; new canyons, new dirt roads, new rock art and ruins. While a visit to the desert is success in and of itself, based on the sites we found on this trip I would label it a complete success. We are at a point where we have visited many of the more well-known sites and are just picking a canyon and walking down it. On this trip we picked a canyon north of Bluff and spent a few days walking along one wall of the wide and bushy canyon bottom. We did the same in a few other canyons as well and, as always, needed more time to see all that was out there.

A Few Words About the Archaeology of the Region
As anyone familiar with the area knows, the ancient population density of these currently sparsely inhabited areas was greater than it is today. Of course the population was dynamic, and changed over the thousands of years of prehistory represented in the rock art of the northern San Juan region.  Certain areas were inhabited, abandoned, and re-inhabited later on, other areas were not populated until relatively late, and some were occupied for very long spans of time. The population here was more dispersed over the landscape, taking advantage of available resources including building sites and food and water sources. The larger “villages” were smaller than today’s rural cities and towns, but the “hinterlands”, the areas we are visiting when we walk down the canyons around Bluff, what many see as the empty spaces between the towns (both ancient and modern), certainly had a much higher population. For the record, when I mention “villages” I am not referring to large population centers such as Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde, but rather those in the peripheral, “rural” northern San Juan region such as ancient Bluff, Hovenweep, and Yellow Jacket.

Moki steps in Northern San Juan region, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

We found Moki steps nearly everywhere we went over this trip. Some of them were definitely needed in order to scale a wall, others seemed really unnecessary, and still others appeared to head to nowhere. Later, Ute petroglyphs were prominent in one area we hiked as well. Note horse in upper right of photo.

A few of the sites we visited had extensive middens, full of lithic debris and pot shards. It was clear that these sites are off the beaten path. Most sites that are found along a roadside or are included in guidebooks are completely devoid of any type of artifacts. Visitors over the years have taken everything away. As an archaeologist this is a painful thought. Artifacts tell a story. When they are found in context- at the location where they were deposited 600, 800, 1000 years prior- they can provide valuable evidence about the people who left them behind. They can inform us about occupation time spans at the site, about how far the occupants may have travelled or how far away their visitors came from, and can tell us about the relative importance of the site and its people. When you visit a site, please leave any artifacts you may find exactly where you found them. Although they may not seem important as you look them over, they may provide important data to the archaeologist who visits the site tomorrow.

Mesa verde black on white pot shards. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A selection of Mesa Verde black on white pot shards, Pueblo III, about 1200-1300. A few of the sites we visited had large middens that still had hundreds of artifacts on the ground surface. The decoration ranged from hurried and uneven hachures to well thought out geometric designs.

A Drive into Arizona
We took a drive down to Kayenta one day, looping south from Bluff toward Mexican Water and then west toward Dinnehotso and Kayenta, and coming back through Monument Valley. If you have an extra day and feel like seeing some amazing scenery from your car, this is a great drive. Driving south you will see the Chuska Mountains rising in front of you, with Chinle and Canyon de Chelly off in the distance. Turning west you will see Black Mesa out in front, and Comb Ridge on your right. It is a scaled-down Comb Ridge after leaving Bluff, but it is still Comb Ridge. Then of course you will drive through Monument Valley on your way back into Utah. While in Kayenta, be sure to see the Code Talker exhibit- start at the Burger King- yes, that is where a part of the collection is housed. There is a small museum right next door where you can see more. Their hours seem to be erratic, so depending on the day and time of year they may or may not be open. There are plans for a permanent Code Talker museum- you can learn more about that project at the official Code Talker website.

Petroglyphs in the Northern San Juan region. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Lizard figures (?)- part of a much larger panel we found on one of our hikes. Scale is ten centimeters.

Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum
Finally I have to mention one of our favorite museums, the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding. If you travel across southeast Utah on Highway 191 be sure to allow at least an extra hour or two for a museum visit. The museum is just a few minutes from “downtown” Blanding, right on the edge of town. It houses an extensive and impressive collection of artifacts, including pottery, a set of plates carved from cottonwood, and a one-of-a-kind Macaw feather sash. They also have a number of very important finds from Comb Ridge that were found by hikers who alerted archaeologists of their discoveries. Their stories and photographs are included in the exhibits.

Our trip was so full that this single blog does not nearly cover all we saw, or all we wanted to write about. We will do our best to write a second post soon, covering more of the rock art we found as well as mentioning a couple of new pieces of gear we tried out. In the meantime, visit the Desert Explorer website for more about our desert adventures.


The Utah Desert in November and Tracking Books

28 October 2013

As a person who actually enjoys 100 degree days, I tend to visit the Utah desert mostly in summer. But Nicolai and I are ready to try something new- we are planning a trip to Utah in early November, something I haven’t done in a long time. The days will be shorter, and the nights colder. But the stars will still be in the sky, tracks will still be on the ground, and the canyons will still be waiting for us. And to paraphrase that rather common fishing bumper sticker, “any day exploring the desert is better than a day….” You can fill the rest in.

An interesting petroglyph along the San Juan River. I have adjusted the contrast a bit to make it clearer. The actual patina is much lighter.

An interesting petroglyph along the San Juan River. I have adjusted the contrast a bit to make it clearer. The actual patina is much lighter and the glyph is covered by a light coating of sand carried by water running down the wall from high above.

Our plan is to head over the mountains on about the 7th of November and spend 10 or 12 days exploring. We will start in the Bluff area and continue walking the canyons of Comb Ridge, and investigating some of the new canyons we “discovered” on a recent trip. On the edge of one of those canyons we found a tremendous flake scatter, along with some incredible potsherds in many different styles. This will be our starting point for our exploration, with the goal of finding out if there are any other occupation areas in the canyon. If the weather allows we may do an overnight or two in the canyon. Otherwise there will be lots of day hikes and plenty of fires at the truck. We had hoped to fit in a visit to Kayenta, and then Navajo National Monument with a hike out to Keet Seel. But the park closes for hiking from early September through late May. So we’ll save that hike for next summer. Read more about Navajo National Monument, their season, and hiking there on the NPS website.

Beautiful potsherds at a site we have recently "discovered". The styles there were incredibly diverse.

Beautiful potsherds at a site we have recently “discovered”. The styles there were incredibly diverse.

I am also looking forward to finding some tracks- any tracks- and following them. Tracking is something that I find relaxing, challenging, soothing, and exciting at the same time. It is a primal urge that still lives in all of us, and for me it is important to let it out. And as I have noted in many past blogs, I feel it is an incredibly important skill for Nicolai to learn, for many reasons. We will take along a few of our tracking guides to study, being sure to re-read parts of them before we start out. Since we don’t have a teacher or mentor and are primarily using books to learn from,  it is important for us to revisit them as often as possible to make sure we haven’t forgotten too much. We have posted a list of all the tracking books we have in our library on the Desert Explorer website Tracking Pages, and continue to add to it as we find more titles.

A tracking book that we hope to add to the list soon, one I have been trying to find for years is The Art of Tracking: The Origin of Science by Louis Liebenberg. The link takes you to a free download of the book, which will be available in print in the very near future, by the end of October 2013 according to various internet sources. I will be ordering a printed copy if the rumor is true. Be sure to click through to the home page if you visit Liebenberg’s website- the site is quite interesting and there is a lot to it.

Anyone wishing to can follow our trip at our website, DesertExplorer.us– see the Twitter posts at the bottom of the page. These are automated and posted as we check in with our SPOT Messenger. We usually do a check in each night at camp, and also when we find a ruin or rock art panel.