Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 6, 2012

Jay Canyon 4: Revelation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
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(Continued from Jay Canyon 3: Reflect)

Halfway back to our car, in the middle of nowhere, a man’s voice hailed us from forty yards above. “Did you visit the ruin site?” he inquired. Tara and I looked at each other, wondering how much to say. Archaeological etiquette calls for much discretion in these matters.

He had monitored the site for quite a number of years and had a detailed history of it; when he heard I was a park service employee, a bond of trust was established. With a note of excitement in his voice, he asked, “Those bones in the granary — did you see them? They’re adolescent ancestral Puebloan.”

Within the granary: a teenager's bones

My mind careened back to the ribs and pelvis, which we had carelessly assumed were from a deer because that and rabbit are the only kind of bones we ever see. Instantly the niggling disconnect in my brain, the missing piece, came into sharp focus. Now I saw the acetabulum, the cup-shaped depression that holds the head of the femur. Above it, the sweeping curve of the iliac crest was unmistakable. Half of a human pelvis, all right.

The man continued his story. “Pot-hunters looted the site multiple times. Four or five bodies’ worth of bones were in a pile on the surface when I first came to the alcove decades ago. They were re-interred in the midden, but folks keep poking around and digging them up.”

After talking further and thanking him for his illumination, we made our way down to the car in utter silence. Everything had changed with one sentence. The place we had just explored was not just a food storage site or a group of houses; it was also a family cemetery.


February 5, 2012

Jay Canyon 3: Reflect

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:24 am
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Kathryn. Granary. (photo: T Baresh)

(Continued from Jay Canyon 2: Explore)

Lunch comes out of the backpack: cheese and crackers, apple, sunflower seeds, mixed nuts, chocolate-covered edamame. On a flat boulder that looked perfect for ancestral corn-husking or sunbathing, we munch and hydrate and ponder.

Something somewhere in the back of my mind is not right. A detail picked up by my brain is not jibing with all the data, but it flits away again and is gone. We listen to a raven croaking, examine the areas where desert varnish is thick and dark from constant wetting, get down on our knees to look into storage cists dug in the rocky floor, study the partially-burned logs that may provide a clue as to the fate of this dwelling site.

Having found fingerprints in the granary mortar that fit our own digits precisely, we sense an intimate connection to its builder(s). I rest my left thumb on a forebear’s impression in the dried mud; it is my own. Centuries dissolve with a smile.

~~ To Be Continued ~~ at this post

February 4, 2012

Jay Canyon 2: Explore

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:01 am
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(Continued from Jay Canyon 1: Approach)

Black Widow webs are of strong silk, often funnel-shaped, and always debris-laden.

One cannot afford to overlook even the smallest detail when examining an archaeological site; they all combine to tell the story. I pause at a dinner-plate-sized hole in the hillside, peering in to see what animal (kit fox? badger?) may have lived there. Black widow nests are in their predictable places, crevices in the rocks and nooks in the structure. A slight breeze helps me find their messy webs.

Knowing this site has been dug and looted — it’s not far off a jeep trail — we look for evidence. A Prince Albert tobacco tin left behind by miners or cowboys sits on a rock. Brittle paper contents from a century ago are somewhat intact, but in 2010 some selfish soul wrote her own thoughts on the back of the artifact. I bristle at the lack of respect.

A tobacco tin from perhaps a century ago

Inside the cylindrical granary, bones are laid out, obviously for 21st-century display. I click a photo and moved on to the room block behind it. This is someone’s house; several families dwelt here eight centuries ago. We examine old corn husks, blackened charcoal, pieces of juniper that may have been part of a roof.

Piecing together why this site was such a lovely place to reside — water supply, south-facing exposure, protection from enemies — we both approved of the real estate chosen by someone’s ancestors.

~~ To Be Continued ~~

February 3, 2012

Jay Canyon 1: Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:46 am
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Sinuous canyons lead to exciting discoveries. Grand County, Utah.

The snow was stopping, so we layered up and drove south of town along the Colorado River. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Tara was taking me to a ruin site she had visited, promising me a granary photo op as my reward.

Feathered spies — pinyon jays — laughed overhead, flashes of bright blue enlivening the otherwise muted desert palette. They are the town criers, alerting the world to our presence. We don’t mind. Nobody else is out here today.

We made our way up ledges, around cliffs, across the mesa bench and up sandy washes until we arrived at an alcove whose neighborhood was graced with an abundance of large trees and huge dead trunks. In our habitat, this is an indicator of reliable water supply; two major pour-offs and a seep/hanging garden corroborated this hunch. One majestic cottonwood, a species found only where its feet can be perennially wet, stood as undeniable confirmation.

Up, up we climbed. My heart beats faster, and my senses get sharper, approaching a ruin site; it is always more than meets the eye. A small thickly-mortared granary was perched prominently on a van-sized boulder.  Letting my imagination go where it would, it went, predictably, to the people who had built this structure perhaps 800 years ago.

I drew near with awe and curiosity and delight.

~~ To be continued ~~ at this post

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