Sunday, October 5, 2008

Passport In Time - What Can I Say?

I'm back from a week in the boonies and a Passport In Time adventure. If I had only one sentence to describe it I would say it was one of the most exciting and unique experiences in my life. It really was that special.

Guitar and I left the Denver area on Sunday morning and headed for the far southeast corner of Colorado. Picture Canyon to be precise. Once we left La Junta, CO the population became more and more sparse. By the time we reached our destination there was a ranch house maybe every five square miles. It was 35 miles back to the nearest town. We were scheduled to meet all the other participants at the Picture Canyon picnic area late in the afternoon.

The group we were to work with included 10 volunteers, a cook and the Forest Service archaeologist. The accommodations were what we brought with us. Guitar and I slept in his truck camper, a husba
nd and wife team brought their Scamp trailer and everyone else either slept in their trucks or in tents. There were covered picnic tables and a vault toilet but nothing else including water. The water we drank (and we drank a LOT during the week) and washed with all had to be brought in by each member of the team.

The volunteers were an amazing blend of folk. The picture at the top of the post shows the entire group just before we left on Friday afternoon. In the group we had a 77 year old lady who had more energy and stamina than any three city teenagers put together. There was a retired school teacher and a retired couple from Canyon City, CO, a book store owner, two young students that really knew their stuff and a businessman from the Parker, CO area. Guitar and I were the only members of the group that had not participated in one of these types of events before. After hearing the Forest Service archaeologist say that she had over 40 applications for this event, Guitar and I felt very lucky to have been chosen to participate.

Our task for the week was to survey Forest Service lands for any signs of historic and prehistoric activity. This included finding stone implements or evidence that stone implements were made at a site, looking for rock art left by ancient peoples or graffiti left by later people.

Monday morning was dedicated to training us what to look for and a little sight seeing to show us examples of some of the rock art in Picture Canyon. Amazingly, while we were doing this one of the volunteers discovered an arrowhead point and a stone knife! The point is pictured on the right above.

After a half day of training we headed off to the first area we were to survey. The mechanics of the survey are simple. You get a whole bunch of people in a line and you walk forward looking at the ground for something on the surface. We did not dig in the dirt. Everything we found was laying on the surface....and we found a lot. Sometimes we resorted to crawling around on hands and knees because some of the "finishing flakes" we were looking for, and found, were about a quarter the size of your pinkie fingernail.

Identification of artifacts required some skill and experience but after a little while it got a bit easier. Since everyone else on the team besides Guitar and I had some experience, it was easy for us to get help or a second opinion.

Some of the artifacts we found were; points, cutting tools, flakes left over from knapping an implement, ground stones, spoke shaves for smoothing arrow shafts and cores. Cores are the big pieces of rock that were the start of an implement. Once these people found the chert or quartzite rock they would pound off a piece to make into an implement of some sort. We also found a lot of expended cores which are what's left over after all the usable pieces were whacked off. The picture above to the right is a quartzite core that clearly shows a piece whacked off on the upper right of the stone.

During the week we went to five different areas that had never been surveyed by an archaeologist before. One area was a "quarry" area where stone was harvested and broken down into smaller pieces. Sometimes it was worked further at the site and sometimes it might have been taken elsewhere to work further. On this site there were hundreds if not thousands of artifacts strewn over a pretty large area.

One site was definitely a campsite where tools were manufactured. We knew this because most of the artifacts were tiny "finishing flakes". These are the last few pieces of stone that are chipped off of the finished product.

One site produced a number of grind stones. These are the flat rocks, usually sandstone, that were used as a surface on which to grind grain or meat. One example is shown at the left above.

The terrain ranged from flat and rolling to steep and rocky. The temps were in the upper 80's and it was hot, strenuous and dirty work. I probably drank a gallon and a half of water a day while we were out. We were back at the campsite by about 5-5:30 p.m. each day, ate dinner at about 6 p.m. Guitar and I were sound asleep not later than 9 p.m. every night.

On Friday morning we went to a site near a rock face called "Inscription Rock"
. This rock had graffiti scratched in it over a one hundred and fifty year time period. The earliest inscription I found was 1846. There was also a very interesting inscription left by a Colonel in the Oklahoma 1st Cavalry.

The project conclud
ed at noon on Friday and Guitar and I drove to Trinidad State Park to spend the night and get our second shower for the week. Wow did that ever feel good.

As I said at the top of the post, this was an exciting and unique experience. I hope it's not a once in a lifetime experience because I fully intend to volunteer for more of these next year. Here's some more pictures to give you a flavor of the on any of the images to enlarge them.

Thanks for visiting.


janeywan said...

Looks like a great time. I love to find things while out hiking, I've never been fortunate to find anything very interesting like you have.
The rocks with graffiti are particularity intriguing.
Thanks for your well wishes over on my site!

Marian Love Phillips said...

Glad you and Guitar had a great time and met some really nice and interesting people. Love the pix and sites. Looks like you will be going back...what an adventure! Thanks for sharing! :)

Meloncutter said...

I bet that was fascinating. I remember as a kid in central Kansas going to various known Archeological digs and getting to help look for Native American Artifacts. I still have arrowheads and various items they let me keep.

I bet you might have a new past time now. LOL

Later Y'all.


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