Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 28, 2012

Target Ruin, you move me!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:00 am
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This handsome ruin site held multiple families in the 13th century.
Its floor is a couple stories off the ground, accessible only by ladder (long gone).

Hidden in the canyons of San Juan County, Utah, lie countless ruin sites that have stolen my heart. This day Sam took me to a new one; I promptly fell in love with the neighborhood and felt that I could be very much at home here. The long ladder is missing, though; while I relish the ambience, I’d have trouble ascending. I may have to abandon my plans to move in.

These unusual incised glyphs are new to me.

Certainly it is one of the prettiest sites I’ve seen in a long time. On close inspection, what stands out to me after eight centuries is the “humanness” of the place. Painted handprints, geometric petroglyphs, ground-out ladder supports, sooty ceilings, pleasing views — all speak of the inhabitants who built it.

Fifty years ago a paragraph was written about magnificent Cliff House at Mesa Verde National Park. The author makes an emotional connection that has helped me experience all ancient sites in a new way:

“Unfortunate indeed, is he who views this ancient city and sees only the towering walls. Unfortunate because the stones are the least important part. [The ruin] is really built on the hopes and desires, the joys and the sorrows of the industrious people. It is not a cold empty city, for it’s still warm with the emotions of its builders. In each fingerprint and tool mark lies the prayers of a young couple for a home filled with children and happiness. Each storage bin is chinked with a farmer’s prayers for a bountiful harvest. In each plastered kiva wall is an ancient priest’s reverence for his gods. A pot is not just a piece of baked clay: it is an ancient potter’s molded prayer for beauty and strength. Each solid wall is a testimony of the success; each shattered human bone, each broken jar, is an admission of defeat.”

— Don Watson, The Indians of the Mesa Verde

Hopelessly captivated by the resilience and resourcefulness of ancient dwellers, I look forward to future explorations. It’s one thing to see displays in a museum; another entirely to encounter these places in the real world, where each of my senses adds further understanding, providing the ‘gestalt’ instead of isolated bits. It’s wonderful, and sweet, and rich beyond telling.

Using dendrochronology, scientists can date the cutting of these logs. The tree rings are distinctive enough that highly accurate dates can be obtained. I don't have a number for this batch yet.

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March 25, 2012

Shards, shards, shards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
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Black-on-White pottery shards at San Juan County, Utah, ruin site.
Note that some have painted rims.

Tingling with excitement, I traced the faint path toward a red rock outcrop. On all sides, evidence of ancient occupancy lay exposed. Old masonry walls, now reduced to heaps of rubble overgrown with grass, rose from the hillside in silent testimony to the ancestral Puebloans who lived here. A Rock Wren serenaded our quiet traverse, much as I envision Rock Wrens of the 13th century may have done by some other name. At my feet were pottery shards of every imaginable design; I felt like a kid in a candy shop, stooping, picking up, rubbing the dirt off, and replacing. An involuntary gasp would escape when I found a particularly bright or unusual bit, colors fresh, edges sharp. It is impossible for me to hold a piece of an old bowl and not ask myself questions about its owner.

Corrugated ware, a more durable everyday ceramic, was used for cooking. It was made by coiling thin snakes of clay, pressing them together with an antler, and polishing the inside with a smooth stone.

In my dreams, I am wandering in awe and wonder at a site and find an intact artifact. Of course, the likelihood of that happening is nil, as every one of these areas has been looted by pot-hunters. I’d settle for finding a vessel in pieces that could  be jigsaw-puzzled back together. Even that won’t happen. I was sincerely overjoyed this day to put my boot down on the ground and have to watch where I was walking; the density of shards was breathtaking. (See smallest photo.)

Untouched dense scatter of potshards with my boot for scale.

Archaeological note: I collected pieces for these photographs but released them all back to their resting places. Two were particularly dear and hard to let go, but I found special places to hide them so they wouldn’t be trampled by others who find their way to this obscure hilltop location where ancestors eked out their living 800 years ago.

March 20, 2012

What does winter’s last day look like?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:26 am
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During a break in the storm, mid-morning clouds dapple the desert near Buck Canyon.

Monday was the last day of winter, and a lingering Pacific storm brought meteorological extravagance to our park. I happened to be out in it, happened to have my camera, and happen to believe that Canyonlands’ beauty peaks during wild weather. See what you think.

Candlestick Tower (L) and Baby Half Dome (R) under a falling sky

Mists sweep into -- and out of -- the canyon depths. This phenomenon happens only infrequently and it is remarkable to watch.

March 17, 2012

A one-photo summation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:03 am
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Entrada sandstone, bare feet, Joe.

Caught between a rock (needing to do catch-up blogging) and a hard place (writing a formal interpretive talk to be delivered imminently), I will for now put up one simple picture of Thursday’s hike. We saw perhaps a thousand lithics and explored to our heart’s content.  If ever one photo captured the afternoon, this is it.

What emotions does it evoke? Leave a comment, please.

March 10, 2012

Sneak preview

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:41 am
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Sunrise from White Crack -- the most coveted campsite on the White Rim Road, for obvious reasons.

Two hundred fifteen photos and 130 sinuous miles later, our breathtaking 3-day backcountry trip is finished. Due to the imminent arrival of a very special guest — my daughter — I am taking a short hiatus from blogging. Here is a photo, however, that I hope conveys the essence of the wilderness protected by Canyonlands National Park. Every footstep I take in this place deepens my love of it, and my commitment to preserving it for future generations. Please enjoy; I hope this whets your appetite for upcoming posts that shall be published as soon as the dust settles.

March 7, 2012

Of pistols and lithics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
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Our treasure map

 

The hastily-scrawled diagram pointed us in the general direction of Bartlett Wash, but we had no backcountry map of the dirt roads. Nor did many of these roads have signage. Out here in the west, most directions utilize features like cattle guards, fence lines, washes, rock formations, et cetera. Today: “Go to the turnoff by the group camp, go about a mile, follow the right fork, and a few miles in there will be a cattle guard with a road right after it. Park at at the turnout by the gate. Follow the fence line to some slickrock. Wander to your heart’s content.” Really. That was it.

Two friends and I were up for the challenge. It was the loveliest imaginable spring day in the desert.

Agile flocks of silvery horned larks adorned the scrublands in which we hiked, and an uncommon Bewick’s Wren sang to us from a low shrub. Dark-eyed Juncos flitted in loose groups from juniper to juniper; a dozen Mountain Bluebirds flashed azure. Atop a lone tree a handsome Loggerhead Shrike posed. Tilting low over the grasslands with its diagnostic white rump displayed, a Northern Harrier hunted for rodents. Overhead, a pair of Common Ravens croaked at us as we followed cow tracks to avoid further damage to the fragile soil crust.

Buried in the sands was this gem. Click to enlarge.

“Hey, what’s this?” Jason exclaimed. We found ourselves in the middle of a large cowboy camp, with rusted tin cans, broken dishes, tobacco tins, cookware, and even an intact glass vase. The more we looked, the more we found. A piece of odd metal was poking out of the sand and he dug up a half of a lady’s pistol — what may have been an ornament that would be stitched onto a saddle bag. I don’t think pistol barrels are built in halves, but I could be wrong.

Anne and Jason are bracketing the lithic scatter at their feet.

After a thorough exploration of this early-20th-century outpost’s remnants, we moseyed east. Within three minutes, our fearless leader stopped suddenly and let out a low whistle. “What in the world–??” He had just stumbled upon a scatter of the largest lithic pieces I’ve seen in Utah, flakes knapped from a parent stone to create tools. How these are all sitting perfectly on the soil surface after 800 years or so, I have no idea, but… there they were. To pick them up and touch them, and replace them lovingly after oohing and ahhing at their beauty, connects me with those who went before. We began discussing what made this exact place so special for bands of travelers many centuries apart: in a shallow dip, with some wind protection, nearby grasslands, perhaps a water supply, towered over by proud buttes of red sandstone. It was a good, good place.

Will you look at this unfinished tool Anne found??? Click to enlarge and see evidence of having been worked at edges.

You know, we never found the destination sketched on our crude map. Treasures, it seems, are often discovered in “wrong” places.

Who wouldn't want to camp, knap, or herd cattle around here?

March 3, 2012

When the desert sun doesn’t shine

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:58 pm
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Clouds & blackbrush. North of La Sal Mountain Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah.

Winter yucca

Our training day for natural history took us out in the storm-ish morning. A front was passing through Arches National Park; the chill air didn’t bother us unless we stopped too long to listen to a talk about grasses, or amphibians, or water quality. I was taking photos as the light changed by the minute, trying to capture the day’s feel. No special lens, no special camera, just a very special mood courtesy of filtered clouds and mists. I hope you enjoy these shots from one of Arches’ loveliest locales, Courthouse Towers.

Three Gossips & Sheep Rock. Courthouse Towers, Arches NP.

March 2, 2012

Looks suspiciously like a grave

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:45 am
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A piece of fire-cracked rock (repeatedly heated, as for cooking fires) grabs my attention. I will call the Bureau of Land Management and inquire about this earthen mound.

Our eyes were sharpened by hours of looking at — and for — everything and anything. Clues of past occupation present themselves to the vigilant observer, and we had been hiking in canyons, scouring alcoves, poking around springs — anywhere where people would have hung out. The only down side was the heavily-used ATV trail nearby, and the tens of thousands of hoofprints and cowpies. Ranchers love canyons that have perennial water sources in them.

I was following a cliff wall, looking for lithic scatter on the ground to indicate a place where ancestral Puebloans would have knapped their points, when I came upon a curious mound of earth looking very different from its environs. About my size, it was covered with hand-picked and hand-placed stones of three types: smooth river cobbles, sharp angular chert, and tabular sandstone slabs. A glance over my shoulder revealed a clue.

In cursive hand on the sandstone wall was etched “Press” followed by a last name I couldn’t make out. Underneath, “3/4/33.”

Time for a little archival digging. Might Press have been an early 20th-century cowboy who met his end in this canyon?

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