Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thank You Obama

December 28, 2016 was a monumental day(yes, pun intended!) . President Obama declared that 1.3 million acres of federal land in south eastern Utah would become Bear Ears National Monument The proclamation is worth a read as it most eloquently describes the history, geology and ecology of this spectacular area.

A few years ago I was a fortunate enough to go adventuring in Cedar Mesa, which is now part of the new monument. We camped along the edge of a beautiful canyon many miles and a four wheel drive road away from civilization. At the end of canyon just below our campsite we spied our first ruin, an ancient granary, the first of many relics we would find that weekend. My companions had been there once before, and knew a few of the secrets of the area. Aided by GPS we hiked a mile or two to find our first major ruin; a very well preserved seven room dwelling. Amazed by the integrity of the rock work, and ancient wooden beams, it was hard not to ponder what life was like for the people who inhabited this home 800 or a thousand or two thousand years ago. Was there more water back then or did they need to haul water from the canyon floor? How many people lived here? Did each room house a family? What did they eat back then? How do you keep kids safe when you live on cliff? Where did they grow the corn? What do all the petroglyphs mean? As we sat and ate our lunch in front of this rock dwelling, it was hard not to feel a connection with ancient people of the past, who all those years ago, probably sat and ate a meal there too.

Returning to camp we spoke to two fellows had also set up camp near ours, they proved to be quite educated about the area and told us of another major ruin located far down the canyon. The next morning we decided to try to follow their directions and find this other ruin. We had a long hike along the canyon rim until we found a spot where we could descend down the rocky cliffs and pick our way to the canyon floor. We had to cross the canyon and then climb back up the other side, where we eventually found the site perched high on the rocks. This ruin was even larger, had numerous rooms, and what seemed to be a large kiva. Inside the smoke charred kiva there was a small round room made of adobe covered sticks. We even found piles of tiny ancient corn cobs. This place had a different feel to it than the other ruins we had seen. There was a large marking high on the cliff, a huge circle divided by four lines. Clearly it was meant to be seen. An ancient billboard? A warning sign? The site's position closer to the mouth of the canyon, and it's expansive views, made us wonder if this was more of fortress or lookout or perhaps a meeting or trading place. We could only speculate about it's purpose, but it clearly felt like a place of importance.

Our destination, from across the canyon near our camp

The ancient ruins are tucked amongst these rocks
Thousand year old corncobs

We spied more ruins and petroglyphs as we made our way back to camp. As we crossed the canyon floor, enjoying the wildflowers and rocky landscape one of my friends made an amazing find: in a the middle of a clearing on the canyon floor there lay a mano and metate, an Indian grinding stone. The mano was neatly cradled in the matete, as though it was just waiting for a native gal to come and grind more corn. When was this last used? 800 years ago? 1000 years ago? Yet here it still is, intact, untouched, waiting to be used again. You could almost feel the presence of the ancients, a connection across the millennia.

Ancient mano, resting in the metate

This of course was just one small weekend adventure, in one small corner of this newly minted national monument. We hiked many miles, found many interesting places, but were certain that there were many more treasures hiding in that canyon, and thousands and thousands more in the area. This is an area worth preserving on so many levels; ancient history, unique ecology, spectacular geology. Thank you President Obama, for doing the right thing and preserving this magnificent area.

Sadly, here in my home state there has been much opposition to the creation of Bears Ears. The republican leadership of Utah have all come out with statements opposing this action. I find it embarrassing to be represented by individuals who have no appreciation for our state's environment and rich ancient history, features we should preserve and be proud of. Things that can not possibly be replaced once destroyed. I am thankful that our nations president recognizes this. Ironically, my trip to Cedar Mesa came at odd time in history, a shutdown of the federal government due to the republicans being unwilling to pass a budget. Our national parks were closed that weekend, but Cedar Mesa was accessible, the area where we camped had a self-service sign in box at the beginning of the road. As we left the area we stopped to add our names to ledger, and found the following editorial attached to the sign out-box. It seems just as apropos today:


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

West Desert Ghost Towns

I think I should start a website... Strange Things Found in the Desert. On a recent exploration of the west desert we explored a few more ghost town, Merkur and Ophir.. We originally headed to Merkur in search of eagles, as a friend had told me that was a good eagle winter ground, and considering that a developed are nearish by is called Eagle Mountain we though he might be right. We'll no eagles, and no ghost town either. The drive up Merkur Canyon ends at a gate to a mine, with nothing to see along the way. The only remaining ghost town remnant is the cemetery, which is located up a goat trail of hill that starts at the beginning of Merkur Canyon and overlooks Rush Valley. What we found there was a cluster of graves with illegible or no headstones each surrounded by individual picket fences, and a handful of rock marked graves interspersed amongst the junipers. It looked like a scene out of an old western, except... grave that was adorned with modern dolls and toys and there was even some money, a dollar bill and change, on top of the headstone. One had to wonder why such offerings were left to a 100 year old grave out in the middle of nowhere.

According to our subsequent google search, the site is popular with paranormal investigators, who pick up a lot of 'activity' from that particular spot, which is the grave of a young child, who likes dolls. Interesting and sort of creepy.

From there we headed to the town of Ophir, which has become a bit of a modern ghost town... there are still some old ghost town buildings in the canyon, and the remnants of mining operations, but a lot of new homes have populated the canyon. The town, population 40, has put together a historical display of old mining shack outfitted in period furnishings, a school house, post office and there is a kind of odd mine exhibit and small store(closed for the season) in the center of town. The mining spot was kind of weird, we were not sure if it was a real mineshaft spot, or some Disney like fabrication. It did have some fake trees on the rocks, and seemed to be decorated for halloween. That was sort of ghostly, in a fake sort of way. So again not really a ghost town, but the drive up to the end of Ophir Canyon was quite beautiful, I see why people are populating it again.