Saturday, November 6, 2010

Headed Back To Civilization


Monument Valley, AZ, 11/10.

This is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write a post for over a week because it’s been busy, busy, busy with travel and adventure. I left Santa Fe on Friday morning after a pleasant day and a half of “big” city sightseeing. Thursday evening I did get a chance to go to the La Fonda Hotel and see Bill Hearne perform his Western music in the hotel bar. The bar had a small dance floor and it was jammed all night with locals and visitors doing the Texas Two Step and other Western dances. It was an entertaining time.hearne1

I had only a few hours to drive on Friday morning and pulled into the Acoma/Sky City Casino, RV park right about noon. Fifteen bucks gave me a nice site with full hook-ups…and a place to meet Guitar before heading to Canyon de Chelly. While I waited for Guitar I did some much needed cleaning of the trailer. A couple of days of boondocking had left both the inside and outside of the trailer pretty messy. Guitar arrived in early evening and we shared dinner and made plans for the trip to Chinle and the Canyon.

We only had about 150 miles to travel on Saturday but there was a lot to see along the way and I needed pick up some supplies before heading to the rather primitive area of Chinle, AZ. Our route was 1-40 West to Gallup and then to angle northwest through Window Rock, Ganado and into Chinle. Gallup was the last big town offering full service grocery stores so we stopped at an Albertson’s to get a last few things to take with us. Guitar and I had travelled through Gallup about two years ago and said that the next time we went through we would explore it more. Unfortunately this time we had other priorities so after a grocery stop and a lunch stop we proceeded on. hubble1

About 50 miles up the road from Gallup is the old Hubble Trading Post. This famous trading post was established in the late 1800’s and is now a National Historic Site. It’s been on my “to see” list for a number of years and I finally had the chance to see it. It was like a trip back in time. The trading post still sells supplies to the local native population and jewelry, blankets and other crafts to the passing tourists. It’s an adobe building with low ceilings and large timber rafters holding up the roof. The traders old desk and filing cabinet still occupy a place of prominence in the jewelry room. It’s hard not to feel the history and wonder about the lives of the people that traded, bought and sold in this establishment. It was also hard not to become a buyer because they had a lot of very attractive Indian jewelry at prices as good as you will find anywhere in the Southwest. By 4 pm we had reached the campground at Canyon de Chelly. This is a very nice campground with forty or fifty campsites and only about a third were full because this is the “off” season. The best part of the campground is the price….free. There are not many National canyon1Parks/National Monuments that offer free camping so this is just a bonus to the fabulous scenery and history of the place. 

On Sunday, Guitar’s cousin Jamie, joined us and we did the driving tour of the north and south rim of the canyon. The weather was spectacular with temperatures in the high 50’s to low 60’s and just a few clouds. I was glad to see the clouds not from a weather perspective but from a photography perspective. In the summer and fall in the Southwest the sky can be brilliant cobalt blue and cloudless. While it’s great weather it can be a bit boring photographically speaking. A few clouds can really make an otherwise so-so picture, pop.

This canyon has been home to native people since around 300 AD. The Anasazi reached their peak in this canyon between about 1050 and 1300 and then the Navajo came to the canyon in the 1700’s. In 1805 the Spanish came through the canyon and massacred many Navajo for reasons unknown. One of the coolest petroglyphs I’ve ever seen was drawn by the Navajo to document the Spanish incursion. There are plenty of other older petroglyphs and pictographs but for some reason this one just fascinates me. I got the chance to see it because after doing the driving tour of the rim of the canyon, we all decided to take a guided tour of the canyon itself. We took that tour on Monday and used a local native guide. It was an unforgettable experience! Not only was the weather perfect but the trees were in full fall color. Our guide had been bought up in the canyon and entertained us with not only the history of the canyon but stories of his childhood in the canyon.canyon2 Along the way we saw lots of Anasazi ruins and rock art.

The Spanish weren’t the only ones to bring destruction to this beautiful place. In 1866 Colonel Kit Carson under orders from his superiors came to the canyon and destroyed crops and orchards and basically starved the Navajo into submission. Once they surrendered they were taken to Fort Sumner, NM and didn’t return to the canyon until they signed a peace treaty in 1868.

Having spent two days exploring both the top and bottom of the canyon, we decided on Tuesday, to widen the circle of exploration. I had read about a relatively unknown and unvisited arch about 10 miles from the canyon and Tuesday we went looking for it. It wasn’t really too hard to find but it entailed a hike of about a half mile to get to it. The rewards for the hike far outweighed the effort involved however. Not only was it a beautiful arch but along the way we also found a tall sandstone spire. In the picture below I’m standing next to the spire and way in the background to the right of the spire, you can see the arch.canyon3

Battery power is getting low so I’ll post this now. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chilly In Santa Fe


It’s Wednesday and I’m in Santa Fe. While it’s chilly here is way warmer than I’ve had it the last few days. I left home on Monday morning just ahead of heavy rain and wind in the Denver area. I travelled south to Walsenburg, CO and then across La Veta pass and into Alamosa, CO. Just before getting to Alamosa I saw an ugly looking cloud bank ahead of me and by the time I pulled into the Safeway gas station in Alamosa it was snowing  pretty hard. My destination was about 50 miles south of Alamosa but out in the boondocks on a primitive Forest Service road and I thought long and hard about continuing…..but I did.nm2

By the time I had gotten that 50 miles south the snow had disappeared but the primitive dirt road I needed to traverse was very wet and slippery/muddy. My original plan was to go about six miles on this road but I chickened out and after about a mile I pulled off on a flat spot right next to the road. They say that “discretion is the better part of valor” and in this case it saved my butt. On Tuesday morning when I drove the rest of the way to the area I was going to search I realized that if I had gone much further I would have gotten stuck big time. I dodged that bullet but there was no way to dodge the cold and wind. For two days the wind blew at a steady 15-20 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. Last night the temperature got down to 19 degrees and the high yesterday was about 40.

The wind and temperature made my metal detecting search for remnants of the west fork of the north branch of the Old Spanish Trail somewhat challenging. Besides the wind and cold, digging artifacts was difficult because the ground was frozen until about noon. In spite of the conditions, I had a great time. I only saw two other vehicles in two days. The area I searched is private land and has been used as a cattle stop over until very recent times. That meant that the area was loaded with modern trash. I spent a lot of time digging up tin cans, barbed wire, fence staples and all manner of modern stuff. I didn’t find anything that would date to the 1830-1860 time period but I did find artifacts from the 1880ish time period. The picture below shows a piece of a wood stove with a patent date of 1879. I also found a hand forged  carriage bolt which probably would date to the late 1800’s. On the other end of the spectrum, I found a 1960 penny. nm4So I didn’t find anything in the era I was looking for but in searching for that stuff I found something a lot older.

While on the north side of the property I saw a few prehistoric basalt lithic flakes and thought it was interesting that with all the modern activity in the area there was still evidence of prehistoric natives to be seen. In the afternoon I went to the south side of the property much to my surprise I stumbled on a large prehistoric quarry.

A prehistoric quarry is an area where the ancient natives came and collected rocks that they could shape into tools. In the southwest those rocks can be chert, quartzite, obsidian, jasper or a number of other minerals including basalt. This quarry was a deposit of basalt and covered a very large area. The ground was littered with rocks that had obviously been broken or knapped by man. The ancients didn’t make tools at this site but they obtained the raw material to take with them and at some later point when they needed a tool they would flake off a piece from a “core” and make whatever they needed. From the size of the lithic scatter this site was probably used for thousands of years.

What a great surprise! I spent most of the afternoon wandering around looking at all the scatter and marveling at the fact that some of the stones I picked up were last held by a human being maybe 10,000 years ago!nm6

When I got back to the trailer I tuned in the weather forecast and found out that the temperature was going to get even colder in the next few days…..a low of 9 degrees on Wednesday night.

Long story short, I decided to head south to a lower elevation and warmer temps so this morning I packed up and drove to Santa Fe. I’m staying at the Trailer Ranch RV Resort until Friday morning when I’ll head out to meet up with Guitar somewhere between here and Canyon de Chelly.

Tomorrow I’ll go into old Santa Fe and do some exploring. Tomorrow evening I’m thinking of going to the old La Fonda Hotel because a famous local Western singer is performing in the bar.

Bill Hearne is famous throughout the Southwest and has influenced many country and western performers like Lyle Lovett and Chuck Pyle. I saw him perform once in the Denver area and always wanted to see him perform on his “home ground”. His performance starts at 7:30 and I think I can stretch my normal bed time a bit and see him perform a couple of sets.

There’s still lots of adventure left so check back in a few days.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Care Package From Mr. Barbecue


The Bride returned from a trip to North Carolina, seeing family, with a Care Package for me! There will be good eats on my trip next week! My favorite Carolina Barbecue place! If I ration myself, this will last almost a year.



Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Search Of The Old Spanish Trail – Again

Back in May I participated in a Passport In Time project down in Tres Piedras, NM. The purpose of the project was to look for artifacts associated with the West Fork of the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail. We didn’t find a whole lot in the area we searched but the local Forest Service archaeologist told me that if I ever wanted to come back and do some searching on my own, I was welcome. That invitation has been simmering in the back of my mind ever since.

Now that the regular season of PIT projects is over, I’ve been looking for an adventure that would allow me to enjoy the fall weather and the simmering in the back of my mind became a boil. A few weeks ago I pulled out my reference material related to the trail and started re-reading some of the historical diaries that pertain to the section of the trail around Tres Piedras. These diaries include that of Don Diego de Vargas who came through the area in 1694 and Juan Bautista de Anza who traveled the same route in 1779. Both diaries clearly describe passing through an area north of Tres Piedras, between San Antonio Mountain and the San Antonio River at a place de Vargas called “the narrows” and this place is clearly visible on Google Earth. The picture below shows why de Vargas called it that. Anyone traveling north or south is funneled between the slopes of San Antonio Mountain and the canyon that the San Antonio River flows through.narrows

Several weeks ago I contacted the Forest Service Archaeologist to see if I might be able to metal detect on Forest Service land in the area circled on the picture above and continue the search we started in May. After a few days of back and forth with the Forest Service I was told that I couldn’t unless the archaeologist was with me and he obviously already has a full time job. Rats! What started out as a pretty cool adventure went to you know where in a hand basket.

I’m desperate for an adventure however and started working on another angle. In the picture above you will see and arrow on the top side of the area I wanted to search. The arrow points to a bit of private land in the midst of all the Forest Service land. The land, about 80 acres belongs to a land trust and is part of an old patented claim that ranchers used to stop off cattle for the night on a cattle drive further south. This section of land may very well be the July 13 noon camp for Don Diego de Vargas and his expedition in 1694. The de Vargas diary describes watering the animals on the river and this is the only area for miles where the canyon walls allow access to the river.

To make a long story short, after a lot of research I was able to locate the land trust that manages the land and asked permission to search for artifacts. They were quite nice about it and graciously gave me permission. Adventure on!

To add to the adventure, I’ve been wanting to go to Canyon de Chelly for a long while now and since I’ll be over half way there on this trip I decided to add this stop to the adventure. I’ve also talked Guitar into meeting me there.

So here’s the scoop. I’ll leave the Denver area on Monday and spend about 3 days boondocking and metal detecting in search of the Old Spanish Trail. On Thursday or Friday I’ll head to Farmington, NM to reprovision the trailer and will then head to Canyon de Chelly and meet up with Guitar on Saturday. I’m not sure what I’ll do on the return trip. A lot will depend on the weather. If it’s nice maybe I’ll continue the adventure to Utah and Bryce Canyon or Capitol Reef National Parks???

This is gonna be good so stay tuned!

Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

All Hail To The Class Of 1952


During the last week of August I participated in another Passport In Time project. The purpose of this project was to find evidence/artifacts related to the 1849 migration of pioneers from Arkansas to California on the trail that came to be known as the Cherokee Trail. The area we were searching, with metal detectors, was a very remote area in Wyoming along the border with Colorado. The closest town to our search area was Laramie and it was about 35 miles to the east.

On the third day or our search I found the high school class ring pictured above. It was about three inches down in the dirt in a wooded area. In the picture you can plainly see the “G” on the top of the ring, presumably indicating the school’s name started with “G”. On the panels next to the “G” is engraved the class year of 1952 and then on the panels to the outside of the class year are the initials C P which is presumably the initials of the owner. In the same general area we found horse shoes, mule shoes and wagon parts but nothing else modern except a few empty rifle cartridges. How the heck did this ring get there and who is/was the owner?ring5

Artifacts found on these projects are normally recorded and then left in place unless they are historically important. This ring certainly is not historically important but I was intrigued. I’ve heard a lot of stories of metal detectors finding and returning personal property to owners who thought their prized possession was long gone and I wanted to give it a shot. The Forest Service Archaeologist agreed to let me keep the ring for a while and try to find the owner….who, if she were still alive would be about 76 years old.

To make a long story short, I have contacted every public high school in Wyoming and Colorado that starts with the letter G. Amazingly, all were able to check their records and tell me that there was no girl student in the class of 1952 with the initials C P. I also checked but found no private high schools in Wyoming or Colorado that started with the letter G and was active in 1952. Finally I contacted the manufacturer of the ring, Josten and was told that their records do not go back 58 years so that was a dead end as well.

I don’t think I’m prepared to check out every public/private high school in the remaining 48 states so unless I can think of another option I will return the ring to the Forest Service Archaeologist. She will either archive it or perhaps take it back to where I found it and rebury it for posterity.

I thought it was a noble idea and I realized when I started that it was an extreme long shot for me to successfully find the owner but it was a fun project. I was amazed at helpfulness of each high school I contacted after I told them the story of how I found the ring… C P who ever you are, your ring has caused many people to think about who you are and where you are and what your life was like. Where ever you are, I wish you the best!

Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Alive and Well

It has been a very long time since my last post. I guess I should have posted an explanation but to tell the truth I’ve been very busy and at the same time a bit burned out on writing for the blog. I’m happy and healthy and have been “adventuring” quite a bit. The adventures have included several more Passport In Time projects, a vacation with The Bride in the Black Hills and several metal detecting expeditions. I can’t explain why but the blog seemed to become more like work than fun and I’ve decided to take a hiatus for a while. Hopefully the “urge” will return as I’ve really got some good stories to tell….In the meantime here’s some random pictures from the past couple of months.

guanella black1

cherokee1 black4

chero2 guanella3


Thanks for visiting

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pawnee Campground –Brainard Lake


Another weekend of camping! This brings me to a total of 50 nights spent in my trailer this year so far…and I have at least four more weeks of activities planned between now and October.

The Bride and I left home of Friday morning at about 9 am and headed for Pawnee Campground to meet the rest of The Circle….Too Tall-Two Timing, K., Guitar and Pic-E. This campground is about an hour and a half drive from home and is at about 10,300 feet in elevation. With all the adventures I’ve had so far this year, this is the first time this season that I’ve camped this high and we picked the perfect time to do it! While The Circle camped in 70 degree weather, the Denver area sweltered in 100 degree temps!brain4

It was an adventure to start with. The campsite I chose was listed as a 40 foot back-in site. Plenty of room for both my trailer and truck….if you could get into it! What the description didn’t say was that the access road was a very narrow rough dirt road with ditches on both sides and the area was heavily forested. To make a long story short, it took me about an hour to get the trailer into the site and once I was in, I was wedged between two trees both less than two feet from either side of the trailer.

In the picture above you can see the tree close to the door side of the trailer. I had to climb on the trailer roof and cut some of the branches off of the tree to keep it from damaging the roof.brain3

After that adventure I was ready to chill for the rest of the weekend and we did just that. We had two days of pleasant weather, good food and good friends. The campground itself was peaceful but the surrounding area was crawling with folks from the front range getting away from the heat. It was so crowded that the park rangers were limiting the number of people coming in and when we left on Sunday morning we saw them allowing one vehicle in for every vehicle coming out.

It was stunning scenery but there were probably as many people on the trails as at the mall here in town. A little too “peoplefied” for my tastes.

I now have a break of about two weeks with no out of town adventures and then I’m off to Twin Lakes, CO for a Passport In Time project. This project will be an archaeological survey looking for prehistoric Indian sites east of the Arkansas River. There have been numerous reports of tepee rings, lithic scatters and other evidence of prehistoric occupation but the Forest Service has never done an official survey of the area. It will be fun and an adventure!

The week after that I’m off to Wyoming for another PIT, this time using a metal detector to find evidence of the Cherokee Trail. And the week after that I’m back close to home at Guanella Pass doing another archaeological survey with the Forest Service.

I have applied for three more Passport In Time projects in September and October that I have not heard anything about yet….and The Bride and I will spend a week camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota in September so the adventures definitely will continue.

Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Metal Detecting In Southern Colorado


This past weekend was the monthly outing for the Pikes Peak Adventure League and my first outing with this group. I’m really glad I joined the group because I had a great time and I am now looking forward to other outings with the group.

This outing consisted of two days of metal detecting at two genuine ghost towns that were located on private property in the area of Walsenburg, CO. Both towns were coal mine camps. The first was active from about 1909 to 1929 and the second was active from about 1939 to 1949. Today only some foundations and and walls remain at either site to show where people lived, raised families and died.

There were about twenty club members that combed both old towns for treasures and relics. Unfortunately no treasures were discovered but a lot of interesting relics were recovered. The relics included miner’s tags, tax tokens, a chauffer’s license, railroad spikes, buttons, a few wheat pennies, a child’s toy cap gun and various other things.metal4

I came away with two interesting finds. The first was the top to a savings bank. The lid is about 3”x5” and has a shield at the top that says “Florence State Bank, Florence Colo. At the bottom is another stamped shield with the words “We Unlock This Bank And Credit You With Contents”.

I checked several sources and determined that the bank no longer exists. I even called the Colorado Bank Commissioner’s office and asked them about the bank. Their online records only go back to the 1950’s and they couldn’t locate any information about the bank.

Since this was found at the site that was active from 1909 until 1929, I’m assuming the bank failed during the Depression.

It’s obvious that the savings bank never made it back to the Florence State Bank so what happened? Was the miner or someone in his family desperate for some cash and broke into it?

The second interesting item I found was a piece of metal about 9 inches long….see the picture below. At the bottom is a raised piece of metal embossed with US.metal3 The top part of the metal has been bent over but if it were bent back straight it might look like a pointer or perhaps a dial on a scale of some sort. At first I thought it might be a piece of horse tack from the cavalry but it’s too heavy  for that. This piece will give me hours of entertainment trying to figure out just what it is!

So it was a great weekend. I had a blast and didn’t see any rattlesnakes. I did wear snake gaiters most of the weekend and carried a .38 revolver loaded with snake shot but fortunately didn’t need either.

This weekend is another Circle The Wagons trip with our friends. This time it’s to Pawnee Campground high in the mountains about 80 miles from home. The campground is at 10,400 feet elevation and sits next to a beautiful alpine lake. This will be a welcome change from the 90+ degree weather we’ve had here in town this week.

Check back in a couple of days for a report on this trip and to hear about my upcoming Passport In Time projects…I now have three scheduled for August and am waiting to hear about three more I’ve applied for.

Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13th- Happy Birthday Dad

You’ve been gone two years and I still feel your presence and ache at your absence!

Cpl Mal
The Colonel's Last Patrol

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Adventures Continue


It’s been a while since my last post but that doesn’t mean that “his-self” has been bored or lonely. One of the reasons for the lack of posting is that I’ve just been having too much fun to sit down at the computer. This post is being typed in my trailer which is parked in Lathrop State Park in Walsenburg, CO….but more about that later.

Last weekend we three couples of The Circle had a 4th of July camping outing at Mueller State Park just to the west of Colorado Springs and on the north side of Pikes Peak. The Circle socializes a lot while we are in the Denver area but because of our diverse schedules, we don’t get to camp out together all that much so this weekend was a treat. It was a great weekend with liberal amounts of sightseeing, relaxing, group dining, laughter and fun. To add to the fun, Jamie and Betsy (part of Guitar’s extended family) joined us.

On Saturday we took a tour of the mining gold camps in the area. The picture at the top of this post was taken in the historic mining town of Victor, CO…birthplace of Lowell Thomas. For all you whippersnappers out there, Lowell Thomas was a very famous news reporter in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Victor is also the home of some of the most famous gold mines in the United States. The Independence, the Cresson, the Gold Coin and pictured just to the left of the American flag above, the Portland. At it’s peak in about 1902 Victor had a population of about 17,500. Today the population is about 400 and it looks more like a ghost town than lively bustling mining town.4th2

There is one active mine left in town and it is just over the hill from the Portland Mine in the picture above. The Portland represents the old hard rock mining of the past. The new mining is open pit mining and while I understand the necessity of this approach to mining it sure is a shame to see what happens to a mountain when gold is mined in this way.

To give you an idea of the scale of this type of mining look at the picture on the right. The dot that the black arrow is pointing to is a pickup truck!

The weather for our outing was just perfect with the exception of one night when all hell broke loose. We had just finished dinner outside at the picnic table when and evening shower commenced. The shower rapidly got ugly and it 4th3 rained, hailed, thundered and lightninged, blew and every other thing for about two hours. At one point we had about an inch of hail on the ground and my trailer awning nearly collapsed. Since the entire group was eating outside my trailer we all rode out the storm in my trailer….all eight adults and five dogs! It was a might cramped but we all had fun as you can see by the picture to the left.

On Monday morning we had our traditional group breakfast…with Mimosas, before breaking up and returning home.

Now about my current location. I left the Denver area this morning (Friday, 7/9) and headed south to the little town of  Walsenburg. Tomorrow morning I’ll be meeting up with a number of people who are all members of the Pike’s Peak Adventure League (I’m a member too.) This is a metal detecting club based in Colorado Springs. About once a month during the good weather months they have an outing. Tomorrow we will be going to metal detect at an old coal camp site that is located on private land. This area of Colorado had numerous coal camps to supply fuel for the railroads and other industry from the 1890’s until the 1930’s and later. This will be my first outing with the group so I’m not sure what to expect, but it should be interesting. The person who set up the outing informed us that we would be in rattlesnake country so I have come with snake gaiters for my legs and I’ll be carrying a  .38 caliber pistol loaded with snake shot! Hopefully my next report will tell you about all the cool artifacts we dug up…and the lack of snake activity so stay tuned.

I’ve also been selected for two more Forest Service Passport In Time adventures which I’ll tell you more about after I get home next week.

Thanks for visiting.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gold Mountain Mine PIT


I left Hudson-Meng early Sunday morning. The weather was fantastic and the dirt road had dried up in the four days I was camped at the site. It was about 150 miles to Hill City and I just enjoyed the drive and looking at the incredible prairie scenery. My route took me over much of the same road I had travelled for the field trip on Tuesday but I didn’t mind at all. It’s large country and the second look was as enjoyable as the first.gold4

Once I got beyond Hot Springs, SD I was in the Black Hills and the scenery changed from sparse prairie to rolling pine covered hills. The temperature was about 65 degrees and the air was full of pine scent. My soul smiled as I drove, life is very good.

I reached Hill City right about noon and after a few wrong turns, found the RV park that was to be my reprovisioning stop. It was nothing fancy at all, about 15 gravel sites with grass between them and right on the main highway. It really didn’t matter because I was busy with dumping my waste tanks, taking on fresh water, grocery shopping and doing laundry. It fit the bill for what I needed for the night. I also was able to use my cell phone to check in with The Bride. I hadn’t talked with her for about five days. 

After doing the laundry I drove out to the designated camp site for this project in the truck. Well before I reached the camp site I realized that my rig was just too big for that place. It was a very narrow rough dirt road with lots of low hanging tree branches. When I got to the camp site there were only a few people camping there and most were in tents. There was one truck camper and one small trailer. The people at the site said that the road had been closed for several days because of rain and a lot of the other volunteers had found better boondocking places in the general area so I decided to do likewise and it didn’t take long to find an nice meadow next to a little stream about a mile from the mine itself. I figured that if I left the RV camp early Monday morning I could set the trailer up and be at the job site by 8 am which I did.gold5

I think I had more fun on this project that just about any other PIT project that I have done. There were about 20 people working on the restoration. In addition to PIT volunteers there were six or seven Forest Service personnel and several members of the Black Hills Historical Society. On our first day of work the project leader asked for volunteers who weren’t afraid of heights to work up on the roof and I volunteered. Much of my working career had me on industrial construction sites so heights and climbing ladders is not an issue for me.

For the rest of the week I worked with three other volunteers replacing rotted roof rafters and then sheathing the roof. To get to the rafters we used a large crane with a basket…that’s me in the basket in the picture above. It was physically demanding work but a whole lot of fun and we could really see the results of our labor. Unfortunately we did not get the entire roof sheathed but what we did do will help protect the building until the project restarts next year.

I was pretty worn out at the end of the day and my body is covered with black and blue marks, cuts and scrapes but it was very much worth it. I was in bed and asleep every day, well before dark and slept wonderfully except for two nights. On those nights I was having a running battle with several mice that somehow got into the trailer. I woke up one night and heard a “scurrying” noise that at first I thought was coming from the roof of the trailer. After listening for a while I discovered it was coming from inside the trailer and when I got up to investigate I saw the tell tale signs…mouse droppings. That afternoon I went in to Hill City and got some traps and mouse poison.gold7

The following night I heard the scurrying again and got up to investigate. One mouse had gotten into the trash can and was having a feast in the bottom of the can. I grabbed the garbage bag out of the can and tossed it out the door. One mouse down. At first I thought that might be the only mouse but when I got back into bed I heard more scurrying and then shortly the snap of the mouse trap…two mice down. I think that was the last of them but to be sure I’ve left several baited traps in the trailer, just in case.

The project wrapped up for the year on Friday afternoon and I moved the trailer to the Rafter J Bar Ranch RV Resort where I met up with K and Too Tall-Two Timing who were spending several days there and taking in the local sights. Friday afternoon we drove over to Mt. Rushmore and then had a great dinner, graciously provided by K and Too Tall.

Saturday morning it was time to head home and I was on the road by 8 am. The trip home was uneventful but the traffic on I-25 from the Wyoming state line to the Denver area was pretty heavy. I’ll have the rest of the week to recuperate and reprovision the trailer.

On Friday, The Circle is having a Circle The Wagons long weekend outing at Mueller State Park. This is a great park just a few miles from the historic town of Cripple Creek and is a very popular place. To get camp sites for the July 4th weekend we had to make reservations in January. It should be a fun time so check back for the report.

Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hudson – Meng Excavation


It’s Friday evening (6/18) and I’m at the excavation camp, about 17 dirt road miles from the nearest paved road. I pulled the trailer in on Wednesday morning without too much trouble. The roads had dried out considerably from Monday but were still muddy and rough in places. The picture above shows the campsite I’m now in…and the gathering storm clouds for what turned out to be a very strong and long thunder storm. The storm lasted most of the night and was accompanied by 50+ mph winds. A lot of the tents in the campground blew down during the night.meng3 The picture below shows what part of the dirt road looked like on Tuesday, so use your imagination to guess what it looked like during and after the 2 inches of rain they got in two days!

Before I get to the excavation part let me tell you about the field trip we took on Tuesday. Most of the participants in this project are students at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. The Forest Service has turned over the actual dig activities to the University and they in turn use it as a field school for their students. The students spend three weeks here and in addition to the excavation work they do, they also take several field trips to areas of interest in the area. This past Tuesday I went with them and visited another field school excavation being conducted by the University of Colorado. That dig was about 50 miles from here and the students were excavating an 800-900 year old native site that looked like it was a small family group living and growing corn adjacent to a now dry stream.

After seeing what those students were doing we headed north to the Wounded Knee Massacre site on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. There wasn’t a whole lot to see there but there were interpretative signs that told the history of this event. Most of the students had never been on an Indian reservation before so it was an eye opener for them.meng2

After Wounded Knee we headed for Wind Cave National Park just outside of Hot Springs, SD. This was one of the thing that I had wanted to see on this trip but didn’t think I would have time to work it in so I was a happy camper to go there…..until we got there and found out that our schedule would not allow us to take one of the tours in the cave. What a tease! We did get to drive around the park a bit and see the local buffalo herd and go through the interpretative center. The cave itself looks to be a fantastic experience so I’ll just have to go back sometime in the future and see it. After this stop we headed back to the campground.

Hudson-Meng is an amazing place. About 10,000 years ago about 600 Bison Antiquus perished here. The site has been under study by archaeologists since the 1970’s and they’re still not absolutely sure what exactly happened although most believe that Paleo-Indians killed the animals in groups over many years. It’s thought that what is now a rolling hill behind the site was a cliff 10,000 years ago and the Paleo-Indians either drove the bison over the cliff or used the cliff as a wall and herded the bison into a narrow canyon and then killed them.meng4

Check out the picture to the right. This is just one small area of bones in the site. In 1997 a climate controlled building was built over the main site to preserve it. After the initial investigation in the 1970’s the area was reburied in order to protect it for future excavation. After the building was built the area was once again exposed and new areas are being uncovered for the first time.

One interesting fact about this site is that there have been almost no skulls uncovered. 600 bison skeletons but almost no skulls. Why? No one has a good answer yet. Some think the skulls were moved to a separate “processing” area to harvest the brains which were used in curing the hides. Others believe that the heads were likely on top of the heap of bones and  were the first  part of the animals to degrade and weather away. I’m not sure I believe the latter theory, especially if there were multiple kills and if that theory is wrong, it means that somewhere in the area are the remnants of 600 bison skulls.

Only a few of the students were lucky enough to work inside the climate controlled building on the main bone bed. The rest of us are working outside digging test trenches or continuing to excavate areas that were started in the 1990’s. I fall into the latter group.meng12

My job for the last couple of days has been to excavate a 1 meter by 1 meter unit that was previously excavated to the bone bed level. In other words I’m digging just below the level that most of the bones were found at. We are hoping that we might find more bones that would date the first kill even farther back than 10,000 years.

It’s slow, hot, back breaking work but it’s really interesting. You can see my “office” in the picture to the left. I have been working for two days now trying to excavate 5 centimeters off of the top of the raised platform you can see in the picture. In the picture I’m holding my trowel next to a piece of bone that I am the first to see in 10,000 years. How cool is that!

Here’s a little closer look at the bone. I’m not sure how big it is because I can’t dig it out completely. I first have to dig down from the starting surface, five centimeters. While I’m digging down, I’m leaving a little soil around the bone. When I get down to the bottom of my digging level I’ll carefully excavate around the bone. If it goes deeper than the bottom of my level I’ll have to leave it until I….or someone else excavates the entire unit down to the bottom of the bone….5 centimeters at a time.meng6

At the rate I’m going I don’t think I’ll get to the bottom of the bone. Tomorrow (Saturday) is my last day on the project and I’ll be surprised if I’m able to complete my five centimeter level.

As I dig I put the excavated soil in a bucket and when the bucket is full it has to be wet screened. That means it’s put on a rack with a fine mesh screen and washed with water to separate the dirt from any stones or small artifacts that I didn’t see as I was excavating. So far I haven’t found anything in the wet screened dirt.

I leave first thing Sunday morning and head for Hill City, SD. I’ll be staying at a commercial RV park for the night before I report to my next “gig”. While at the park I’ll dump my waste tanks and replenish my fresh water supply. I’ll also do laundry and stock up on food for the week.

This next project will be just as exciting as the current one but in a much different way so stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It’s Tuesday (6/15) morning and I’m seeing the sun for the first time since I left Denver on Sunday morning. I’m camped at Ft. Robinson State Park just outside Crawford, NE. The drive up on Sunday was tiring to say the least. The first 100 miles was on Interstate 25 to Cheyenne, WY. That part wasn’t too bad but splash back by passing cars meant I had to “drive” the whole way. There was no opportunity to  relax and enjoy the scenery.

Once off I-25 it was a series of increasingly smaller highways and unfortunately the further north and east I got, the harder the rain came down. I made it to Ft. Robinson at about 3pm and I was more than ready to stop. The camping gods didn’t give me a break by slowing down the rain after I arrived so I got pretty soaked while unhooking the trailer. On the drive up here I kept remembering the description of the route into the Hudson-Meng PIT site. “Narrow dirt road that can become treacherous or impassible in wet weather”. This might prove to be interesting!

Yesterday the weather was a bit better…it wasn’t pouring, but it was still drizzling off and on. I decided to drive into Hudson-Meng site in the truck to see what the road was like. It’s about 4 miles from the campground to the dirt road and then it’s about 14 miles of dirt road.

When I hit the first portion of the dirt road I thought that it wasn’t going to be a problem. It was a county road, well graded and maintained and a semi-gravel surface. After about 4 or 5 miles of that, I hit a Forest Service road and things got ugly quick. The road was not built up above the surrounding area and consequently had very poor drainage. It also had no gravel surfacing and there was a fair amount of clay in the soil. All of that resulted in a gooey, slimy, slippery mess. I had the truck in four wheel drive and I was still slipping and sliding. A couple of times I almost gave up and turned around but I pressed on and in about another four miles the road got better. The rest of the way into the site was decent, not great but passable.

When I first arrived at the site I didn’t see any sign of human activity except for two cars parked in the parking lot. I thought that maybe the project had been cancelled and they forgot to tell me. I walked towards the two cars and as I did I came to the crest of a small hill and then saw 8 or 10 small tents, a small Casita trailer and two field tents.

I found the project leader hunkered down in one of the field tents. He said that they hadn’t gotten a whole lot accomplished because of the rain but were hoping that the weather would improve this week. He said there were about 18 people working as volunteers on the project and most were archaeology students from Minnesota. He also said that Tuesday (today) was a day he planned for a field trip to some local sites.

After some discussion I decided that I would stay at Ft. Robinson for at least two more nights in the hopes that weather would improve and the roads would dry out. I will meet the group in Crawford in about an hour and go with them on the field trip. Tomorrow morning I’ll drive into the site for the day. If the roads are dry enough to allow my 12,000 lb trailer to pass over them, I’ll drive it in on Thursday morning. More to come.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Two Week Road Trip


I will be headed out first thing Sunday morning for two weeks of travel and adventure. I’m headed first to the Hudson-Meng Archaeological Site in the Nebraska National Forest. This site is about 20 miles north of Crawford, Nebraska. My plan is to drive from the Denver area up through Cheyenne, Torrington and Van Tassel, WY and then head east on US 20 to Fort Robinson State Park where I’ll spend the night. Monday morning I’ll tour the historical park and then head for the Passport In Time project. The site is relatively remote so I don’t think I’ll be able to post any updates until at least Sunday 6/20 when I’ll head out. Right now the weather forecast is pretty good for that area with temps in the high 70’s at a max. That is great because this project involves excavation and that’s just like you see on TV, a lot of kneeling and brushing away minute amounts of dirt to reveal bison bones or stone age tools.

On Sunday I’ll drive from the project north along US 385 to Hill City, SD and spend the night at a commercial RV park so I can dump my waste tanks and take on fresh water before going to the next PIT project which will be about 15 miles from my overnight stay in Hill City in the lovely Black Hills National Forest. This project is also pretty remote and there will be no internet connection and most likely not even any cell phone reception.

When I complete this project on Friday afternoon, I’ll get to meet up with Too Tall – Two Timing and his bride K who will be staying at an RV Resort just south of Hill City. They will be in the area for about a week taking in all the sights and there are a ton of things to do and see in the area. Check it out here. We should have a great mini Circle The Wagons night and once again I’ll get the opportunity to dump my waste tanks and take a nice long shower!

I brought the trailer home yesterday and began cleaning and loading it for the trip. While shuttling between the house and the trailer I heard the low powerful roar of a piston airplane engine. Looking up I saw a vintage B17G Flying Fortress fly right over the house. This plane visits the Denver area at least once a year and is available for ground tours and if you want to fork over about $400 you can take a 15-20 flight in it. I kept an eye out all the rest of the day hoping I would see it again and get a picture of it but only spotted it one more time at a distance. I’ll bet today, being a Friday, I’ll see it more.

This will most likely be my last post for about a week, but stay tuned….adventure ahead!

Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another Passport In Time Project

Passport in Time

My summer is filling up nicely. I just received word that I was accepted for this PIT project in August. I’m very familiar with the Twin Lakes area as The Bride and I rented a cabin in the area for several years. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Colorado and I’m anxious to be able to explore it in more depth with the Forest Service.

Mosquito Range Prehistoric Sites Survey

August 1–6, 2010 (including weekends)

Must commit to full session

Join the San Isabel National Forest Heritage Team as we explore prehistoric sites on the western slope of the Mosquito Mountain Range! The project area is located in the central Colorado Mountains between Buena Vista and Leadville, east of the Arkansas River. This area has been explored by wilderness rangers and hikers who have reported large prehistoric camps, teepee rings, and petroglyphs. However, the true extent of the occupation and use of this area in prehistoric times is unknown, and our survey will serve to further provide insight. PIT volunteers and Forest Service staff will conduct cultural resource surveys of the project area and record all new sites we encounter. As we create maps, take photographs, and log GPS coordinates for each of them, the area's story will begin to unfold and become clearer.

We will be hiking at high altitudes in rugged terrain, so good physical fitness is essential. The temperature during August is mild, with highs in the 70s and 80s. But, since we'll likely work up a sweat after hiking in the mountains, volunteers can take a dip in Twin Lakes! So, bring your bathing suit and beach chairs and join us for an exciting week in a very beautiful part of Colorado!

Number of openings: 8

Special skills: Must be physically capable of hiking moderate distances each day over very rough terrain in a variety of weather conditions; Previous archaeological survey and/or drawing/mapping skills helpful, but not required

Minimum age: 18 years old

Facilities: Housing provided at no charge at Forest Service cabin at Twin Lakes; full kitchen, bath facilities, other amenities; tent and RV camping at cabin; no outdoor facilities or hook-ups; other camping available at Forest Service campgrounds located on and near Twin Lakes; facilities vary; limited lodging and amenities in Twin Lakes Village; Leadville and Buena Vista are full-service communities with hotels/motels, B&Bs, and a full range of other amenities; volunteers will share in preparing evening meals through organized potluck-type, "themed" dinners; volunteers responsible for personal bedding/camping equipment, food, water (during work hours), and transportation

Nearest towns: Twin Lakes, ~5 miles; Leadville, 20 miles, Buena Vista, 20 miles

Thanks for visiting.


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