Of bears, graneries, archaeology and a magic river
Editors note: This is the second part of a journal kept by Terry Willis, who is a sports and recreation reporter for the Sun Advocate. Terry worked as a boatman for the BLM on this trip down the Green River in Desolation Canyon in early July.
By 5:30 a.m the next morning you can hear the Spangler's bumping around in the kitchen area getting coffee and breakfast started. This is no vacation adventure, but a true working group. By 8 a.m. groups are divided up and we are ready to head off. I want to go up with the upper group, but don't plan to make a day of it. I want to get photos and a feel of both the groups headed into the creek drainage. Since Rosie (what we chose to name our constant bear companion) is frequenting the ranch site and other bear scat is common on the trail I didn't want to cruise the trail alone to come down.
I recruit two members of the group who don't want to stay for the day either, but do want to visit the site. Since CPAA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, there is a board of directors. Two members of the board also came along on the trip to be hands on volunteers for this outing. They are Paul Phillips and Susan Zimmermann.
Phillips is a practicing environmental lawyer and was instrumental in helping CPAA get through the red tape of obtaining their 501 (c) (3) status. Zimmermann is a writer and education consultant. This is their first trip with CPAA although they have done many Desolation Canyon trips in the past. They volunteer to be my bear guard.
We walk for about three miles up the trail. We have to bushwhack through spungy mud and poison ivy. We catch a glimpse of a bear heading down stream and it ignores us. We finally make it up to our location and try to find one last previously reported panel of a horned snake.
As we clamor up the scree slopes and up on the lower ledges of the cliffs, someone spots an unrecorded granery. Now the real work began.
It isn't like the movies where Indiana Jones swoops in and sees if there are treasures to take. Mostly, it is about careful measurement, sketching the site and surroundings. It also involves the recording of details on the paper work that is brought to each site. They do not dig into a site, but leave it as untouched and undisturbed as they can.
Kristen Jensen finds the panel we are searching for. Jensen manages the statewide archaeological and historical properties data bases. This is her opportunity to take part in the work she helps maintain in a data base. She does not get to get out of the office and do the hands on work very often. It is her fourth CPAA trip. She feels her efforts in the field allow her to have an orientation on the policy issues and keep a perspective on what is really important,
A second, more elaborate panel is located by Rick Chapoose. Rick is a member of the Ute tribe and spent many summers at the ranch house in Florence Creek down river from here. The Chapoose family ran the ranch house and a small river company for several years. Later on Chapoose himself ran it for a short time, but now is working with the tribe to document the many roads that are crisscrossing the reservation lands. Chapoose brought a sense of reverence to the expedition and his insights and stories put a different dimension to the entire passage through the canyon.
The Ute tribe has been skeptical about archeology projects. Chapoose feels that they view them as potential looters of their heritage. There has been a history of that in the past, but Chapoose has done enough trips with CPAA to understand that they are there to document and leave alone, not collect for museums and others who would profit from the finds.
He would like the tribe to enlist CPAA in doing the same type of inventory on the left side of the river on tribal land. But he admits it is an uphill battle as those in power right now do not appreciate the assets they have in their piece of the Green.
With documentation underway, I and my bear patrol head back down the trail in search of the second group. We also scan the cliffs for a granery that was previously documented, but not yet relocated. Then we think we see one.
The three of us begin the difficult scramble up the face. Phillips is a better climber and gets up to the ledge. Despite our excitement, it turns out to be a natural rock pile. We come down and run into the other group just below us on the trail. They came up to double check our assessment and concur it is a BN (big nothing). There will be many BNs on this trip.
The lower group heads on up the canyon to revisit a known panel. I head on back to finish my painting. As the heat of the day settles in to cover us, the teams begin trickling back.
Metcalfe and Banta's group has been documenting the ranch and discovered a hand-carved shovel made out of cottonwood stashed in a small rock cranny just above the ranch. Similar shovels have been discovered in Nine Mile. They take turns working the ranch area with Rosie the bear, giving her space and time to come in and munch the fruit while they take breaks back at camp. It is a great working relationship.
Another night of great food, music and talk. Phillips had done some very extensive research into the history of the Rock Creek Ranch and gives us a talk, along with historic photos and excerpts from a journal of one of the past residents. Darkness and mosquitoes enveloped us as we sit listening to the tales unfold.
One last morning at the ranch. This time one group heads downstream along the river banks to explore Calf and a Half and Calf Canyons. The other group returns up to the forks of Rock Creek.
I head downstream to be an active part of the expedition. There was a granery in a cool, damp side canyon that has been already documented but we sit and look at it as we chill down after a rock scramble to check many alcoves and rock crannies on the cliff face.
I made my first real discovery by finding a small panel of markings on the inside of a boulder field. This one was classified as a LS (little something) and I was thrilled. I got to do the site drawing as Spangler recorded the panel. I followed him to another LS to help record that as well.
We then fanned out to score the bottom land boulder field as the river swept left. Cheat grass made our shoes look like big fur balls and worked their way inside to create a distracting poke on each step.
I come across another man made structure of pinion pine poles and a small rock wall at the back. The others are spread out so I make a note of it and continue on. Many of our group have turned back due to the heat so there are only four of us to meet at the mouth of Calf Canyon.
We eat our lunch and begin the bushwhack into the canyon. There is a granery they are trying to re-document. Boomgarden's trained eyes spot it hundreds of feet above the canyon wall. I can barely make it out, even after its pointed out to me.
Again the documentation starts and it is over a half hour of paper work to get done as we sit in the scorching heat, savoring a sliver of shade from the brush behind our backs. Spangler and two others finally finish their sweep of the sandy shoreline and trek up into the canyon to take a look.
We begin the long trudge back to camp and I take them past my structure. They feel it's probably more historic than archaeological, but the presence of the wall makes it worth documenting. Again a LS.
By state statute I am supposed to stay on site until the documentation is done since I am the one who found it. Three of us stay behind to record and the rest of the group heads back to document another wall found along the way. My job this time is to be the tape measure girl. I measure all aspects of the structure as they document.
We finally wind it up and head back to camp. Boomgarden shows us pithouse remains and a grinding stone he found last trip. We admire the articles and then leave them as found.
With the work completed for now at this site, we unwind and relax. An Indian lamb dinner gets us going and then we sing and dance down on the boats until late. Rosie must sense we are leaving because she makes no appearance that evening at all.
In the morning the tempo is much different as we load up the boats to get an early start. We want to make 20 miles today.
The board members have to head out. So we say good bye to Phillips, Zimmermann, Susie and Jeff Bogard. Susie Bogard is a retired high school art teacher and her husband, Jeff, is also a retired teacher. They are neighbors of Zimmermann. They travel a lot and have been part of several other archaeological projects. Cedar Mesa is one they spent much time on and have led groups of school kids to take part in volunteering as part of their curriculum.
We head downstream to hit two more sites as we also try and make miles. One group stops at Lion Hollow and the rest of us continue to Trail Canyon to document a granery that was located by BLM Ranger Mick Krussow on a previous trip. This granery was one recorded on the Clafin-Emerson expedition.
It is only a quarter mile or so up the side canyon, but the walk is brutal. Most of us are wearing shorts and we work along an elk trail through the sage brush. Old mosquito bites were re energized as the plants scraped off the first layer of skin, but success of locating the site made it worth it.
As the three archaeologists headed up the steep slope to get as close as they could to record the site, the rest of us head back to the boats to wait.
The Lion Hollow group reunite with us about the time the three come back out of the side canyon. Success is traded back and forth. An ancient moccasin was found by Metcalfe laying on the ground at the Lion Hollow site. A rare find indeed. This was a BS (big something).
But now we want to get down as far as the mouth of Range Creek today and have many river miles to float. Rapids are common through this section and we make good time. But more time than we expected had been spent at Trail Canyon and we revise our plans.
We pull into a camp above a rapid called Wire Fence and end a long day. After a late evening and many river miles, most of us retire early as we now have an even longer day tomorrow.
The next morning as I break down my tent at 6 a.m. I hear a loud crack and watch an old cottonwood tree limb across the river break off and crash. Camp is awake and moving now as everyone crawls out of their tent to see what the noise is. Keith Kloor had his tent set up next to mine and jumped upright in his sleeping bag as the rifle like sound echoed the canyon. Kloor is along as a journalist doing a story for the Science Times, which is a subdivision of Science Magazine. This is his second trip down the canyon with CPAA. He has been an editor with Audobon Magazine and has written stories for the High Country News, the New York Times and other high profile media outlets. Kloor has been interviewing us all for the entire trip.
He is trying to focus on the remarkable partnership that is taking place to get this work done. With the diversity of our group assembled it has given him much material to add to his story.
We have the three biggest rapids on the trip today. Minutes after launching we are drenched to the skin in Wire Fence and then Three Fords Rapids.
But there is still work and soon we pull out to explore another previous recorded site. This site is located and Chapoose moves a rock and the top of a human skull is uncovered. The group completes its documentation and Chapoose is left behind to perform a ritual blessing on the site.
The finding of the human remains deepens all our appreciation and understanding of the human inhabitants that one tried to survive in these places that most of us now see as a recreation area. We are a bit solemn for a while as we head downstream.
By 1 p.m. we are at Range Creek. We have decided not to do any work here as the August trip can come down and focus their efforts more thoroughly than we could. Metcalfe gives us a short talk about the work he has been heading up in the upper Range Creek section and his thoughts on how things may tie together.
Several go up to the mouth of the creek to wash off the river silt and cool off and then we are on our way. We join up into small groups again to motor through the "lake". It is a long flat stretch of the river with few currents and often an upstream wind. Soon we split up and raft the rapids of Rabbit Valley, Coal Creek and Rattle Snake. Coal Creek was showing its force, but we all slide right through. Then a small flat water stretch and Nefertiti Rapid comes into view. Home for the night.
The working part of the trip is over for the archeology crew and it is enchiladas and margaritas all around. We have hoarded a block of ice and have the battery powered blender going and life is good.
I head to my tent after losing a spirited game of washers and lay down listening to the roar of the rapid and the strains of music from the beach, punctuated by laughter and an occasional squeal as someone almost falls off the boat they are sitting on.
I have spent much time talking to each person on this trip. As I wrapped up my interviews I talked with both of the BLM rangers who came along. Jim Wright is in his sixth season as a ranger on this river. These trips have been the highlight of his season. He walks away from each one with new found friendships and a wealth of knowledge that has translated into a greater respect for this river. He no longer makes his way downstream without being touched by the humans that were here before him.
Skip Edwards is in his eighth season and has also spent time on the Westwater stretch of the Colorado as well as a few seasons on other rivers. This is his second trip down with CPAA.
He is taking away a better awareness of what to look for and how to observe the potential presence of a site. The trips have also made him more aware of the importance of his role to educate the boaters and their families and friends who head down the river about the abundance of sites they may encounter and how to treat them when they do come across them.
The next day we get up early one last time to sojourn down the final leg of our voyage. It is the section called the daily and it is punctuated with small rapids and flat water. We are a bit quieter as the boat ramp draws near. The dirty hot work of loading boats and cleaning gear remain, but it is our own reflections on this trip that take over in the final miles.
We all will be heading our separate directions soon. The common theme in our final conversations to each other is how much this trip has touched our hearts and how our view of Desolation Gray has been altered forever.
Spangler knows we have only touched a tiny piece of the puzzle. But as he says "you need to eat an elephant one bite at a time." We have only managed to get through the appetizers.