“A needle in a haystack,” I told myself. “How can I ever locate this artifact based on a six-month-old general description from visitors?”
A couple had come to the desk last September to report that they had found a grinding stone, or metate (meh-TAH-tay) in one of the less-traveled sections of the park. They showed me photos they had taken, and I assured them it was indeed what they thought it was, probably at least 800 years old, of ancestral Puebloan origin. I got their contact info, gave them the park archeologist’s email, and hoped for the best. I returned to Minnesota before I had a chance to get out there and look for it for myself.
Today was supposed to be the most glorious spring weather yet, and it was my day off. I wanted to go metate-hunting. Based on the vague directions I had scribbled, it could be anywhere along hundreds of feet of rock, hundreds of feet wide, among junipers and pinyons. I had a mental image of the expansive area, and a general gut feeling to go on, but I knew it was a slim chance — even if the metate were still out there.
The crisp 46-degree air invigorated my lungs and my steps. An hour or so of solo sunrise hiking brought me to the vicinity, and I began slowly making some passes up and down, back and forth, just to see what I could see. I was also practicing identifying bird songs, so any time I heard one I’d stop and ID it with binoculars. A perfect spring morning.
I put my back to the low morning sun, walked up a bench of sandstone, and almost tripped over this ancient artifact. Staring was all I could do for several minutes; I eventually marked it on my GPS and photographed it from every angle, including background landmarks so the archeologist can see it in situ. And then I sat down on a rock nearby.
I stayed on my rock for maybe two hours. I studied the metate plus everything around me — every landmark, every living thing, every noise in the soundscape, every smell. I wanted context. I tried to imagine the women and girls who ground seeds at this metate, and wondered whether they had wonderful girlfriends like I did, and what they made for their breakfasts, and whether their hearts were open to love, and what their names were.
Seven individuals walked by in that time, on an established trail but oblivious to the treasure just out of their sight. What a gift I had stumbled upon.