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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Visit From Cajon

My son in law Cajon arrived in the Denver area last night. He will be staying with us for a couple of days while he looks for an apartment in the Denver area. Oh, my you say? What’s up with that?

Very good news.

Cajon is originally from Colorado and has always wanted to return here. The fact that he and my daughter, Cajenn, have lived in California for the past few years has made Colorado an even sweeter prospect and he has convinced his employer that he can do his job just as well from here as he can in California. To make things even sweeter, my daughter’s employer also has an office in the Denver area and she has been able to transfer her job location here as well. Their plan is to move to an apartment sometime in August and begin a search for a house…at their leisure.

The Bride and I are both excited. My work a day career took me to seven different locations and the closest we ever were to family was about a three hour drive for a few years. For most of my 35 year career we were five hours or much more from family. To have family in the same town, at this stage in our lives will be a real treat.

The Bride had previously scheduled a girls night with Pic-E and K. so tonight after Cajon finishes his search for the day I’m going to take him to Bud’s Bar for a good ‘ole greasy cheeseburger. He has heard me talk about Bud’s for some time now but has never had the opportunity to visit. I’ll fix that tonight. Guitar and Too Tall-Two Timing will meet us there and we’ll have a high old time, I’m sure.

Hmmm, the Ca part of Cajon and Cajenn refer to their residence in California. I guess I’ll have to give them new monikers. Not sure Cojon and Cojenn will work? Any suggestions?

Thanks for visiting.


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