Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands

PDF version A US government plan to slash protections for one of North America’s richest and best-preserved archaeological landscapes has prompted a wave of concern among researchers. On 4 December, US President Donald Trump announced that he had cut the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah from 547,000 hectares to 82,000. That removes protections for thousands of Native American cultural sites, some as many as 13,000 years old. The president’s action leaves the national monument, created last year by h

Source: Archaeologists uneasy as Trump shrinks Bears Ears monument lands

6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments – Center for American Progress

6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments By Jenny Rowland and Kate Kelly Posted on December 5, 2017, 1:20 pm President Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a proclamation to shrink the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Salt Lake City, December 4, 2017. AP/Rick BowmerPresident Trump signs the hat of Bruce Adams, chairman of the San Juan County Commission, after signing a procla

Source: 6 Things President Trump Got Wrong When Decimating America’s National Monuments – Center for American Progress

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Take Action! Click here to Tweet and #StandWithBearsEars: @realDonaldTrump’s illegal attack on Bears Ears National Monument is a slap in the face to Tribal Nations and leaves tens of thousands of cultural sites at risk. #MonumentsForAll Make a Contribution! Your generous contribution today will help the Native American Rights Fund keep fighting for justice against the outrageous attack on Bears Ears National Monument. Click here to donate.

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Recent Events…

It wasn’t a government “land grab.” It wasn’t Washington DC waltzing in and taking the land, forcing people from their homes.  The lands in question, Bears Ears National Monument (Ceder Mesa and the surrounding area) and the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument were already Federal Land. No state land was taken/stolen.  In the case of the GSENM, several SITLA (school trust lands owned by the state) parcels were traded to the Federal Government, by the State of Utah, in exchange for large blocks of valuable, resource-rich land outside the monument boundaries.  Again, NOTHING was stolen/taken/absconded with.

The establishment of the Monuments was done with the intention to protect and preserve areas possessing unique natural, and cultural qualities. What the monument status did was add layers of protection to sensitive, irreplaceable paleontological, and archaeological sites – fossil beds, dinosaur tracks, rock art, prehistoric burials, villages, ceremonial features and sacred landscapes.  Monument status would help in preserving pristine wildlife habitat, riparian areas, delicate desert vegetation systems and unbroken, spectacular viewscapes – if managed/funded adequately enough to do so.

I’ve spent years working and recreating in these places – hiking, camping, climbing, wandering, conducting archaeological survey and site documentation. I spent a season working as a BLM backcountry ranger at Kane Gulch.  I’ve seen what unrestricted development, unrestricted grazing, mining, drilling, ORV traffic and, yes, even unrestricted recreation (mountain biking, horseback riding, climbing route development, even foot travel) can do to these surprisingly delicate places.  They all leave a lasting footprint, some bigger than others.

Yes, National Monument status means more visitors. Kane Gulch Ranger Station, now in the middle of Bears Ears National Monument, saw a HUGE increase in visitors this year – over 13k just this spring alone.  The rangers speculate this was due not only to the new Monument designation but to the controversy brought on by Zinke’s recent visit and the rumors of eliminating or significantly downsizing the Monument.  They actually had visitors express a need to see it “before it was gone.”  Cedar Mesa had been seeing an increase in visitors every year beginning in 2006 when the BLM opened a new, brick and mortar visitor center/ranger station at the Kane Gulch trailhead. Prior to that, the “Ranger Station” consisted of an old, 20′ camp trailer.  The refrigerator served as the filing cabinet for backcountry permits and extra maps, and the oven housed the backstock of stickers and flyers.  Now, with unlimited virtual access to places like Moon House, Perfect Kiva and The Procession Panel, more and more people are physically seeking out these locations to post selfies and, well, I digress…

What is potentially at stake with Trump’s recent “downsizing/rescinding” of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments isn’t just the shrinking of Monument boundaries.  This action could open up archaeologically and paleontologically rich/sensitive areas to surface mining, oil and gas drilling, unrestricted vehicle impacts, real estate development, increased looting/pothunting.  The “new” Bears Ears National Monument would NOT include Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch or Fish & Owl Canyons.  Originally they were protected from development by their Primitive Area or Wilderness Study Area status. What their status would be after Trump’s “downsizing” is uncertain.  These places were included in the 2016 Monument boundary because of their sacredness to several Native American tribes. They were included for protection because of the irreplaceable archaeological treasures found therein. They were included to protect pristine wildlife habitat and riparian areas, ie. their “wilderness quality.”  That will all be in question, if Trump has his way.

I find hope in the fact that what Trump is trying to do is illegal. There are several organizations planning to file or have filed lawsuits to stop this, including a coalition of the Navajo Nation, Pueblo of Zuni and the Hopi, Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes, suing on behalf of the Bears Ears, and the Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council on behalf of the Grand Staircase-Escalante.   Yvon Chouinard, owner of gear/apparel company Patagonia is planning a lawsuit on behalf of Bears Ears.

Right now, I’m in “wait and see” mode.  I’m hoping that someone with the power to do so will say that rescinding the Monuments is, indeed, illegal and can’t be done. Or, barring that, the lawsuits will tie the action up for years, until a new, stable administration that truly values our national heritage and Public Lands takes over.

“It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird…” Theodore Roosevelt.

Gnats!!

Biting gnats are parasitic organisms similar to mosquitoes and are capable of very annoying bites. However, while mosquitoes pierce the skin and feed with mouthparts similar to a hy- podermic needle, biting gnats have scissor-like mandibles that cut the skin to produce a small, bleeding wound. In the process of biting, saliva penetrates the skin causing an allergic reaction. This reaction is minor in most people, though it can be severe in rare cases.

Source: gnats.indd – Gnats.pdf

A Quick Trip to White Sands National Monument: Go Early, Hike in Late…

Last week, I decided to take a couple of days and visit White Sands National Monument.  I’ve lived in New Mexico for almost three years and decided it was time.  There is no excuse not to take advantage of a National Monument or Park when it’s in your backyard.

From what I’d read and heard, WSNM is a spectacular location for exploring and stargazing. During the day, the dunes are beautiful – stark white, with very little relief as far as color or texture go.  There is sparse vegetation, mostly consisting of salt-loving shrubs growing in the low areas between the dunes.   The occasional yucca manages to find a foothold, even on the dune tops.  At night, there is very little light pollution, making for perfect stargazing conditions.

I opted for a “backpacking” trip – hiking into one of the ten available back-country sites.  My plan was to go in a bit after mid-day, set up my campsite, explore a bit and relax under my shade/tarp until evening.

Permits are issued on a first come, first served basis.  You must walk in to get one.  There are also days when you can’t hike or camp: the missile test range is next door, and if they are testing, there’s no hiking or camping.  Call ahead.

I drove down to the visitor’s center, walked in at 11:00 am, and had my choice of campsites.  From there I drove to the trailhead parking lot, located the start of the dune-field trail, and began my hike in.  So far, so good.  The backcountry area is actually quite small.  The trail is a 4-mile loop, with the 10 campsites branching off of it like spokes on a wheel.  Each site is situated in the bottom of a low-lying flat area, behind a sand dune.  There is no camping allowed on the dunes themselves.  You’d think these low areas would be ideal locations for camping…  One suggestion: if you are using a tent that requires staking out, bring tent stakes and a hammer.  There are no rocks naturally occurring in the dune field and the gypsum hardpan is basically cement.  Pushing in the tent stake will only result in a bruised palm and a very weak stake placement.  I learned this lesson the hard way.

After setting up my tent and tarp/shade, as securely as possible, I did some exploring.  The Monument website recommends taking a fully charged cell phone, map, compass, and GPS.  They also state that often-times GPS coverage is iffy, and your phone likely won’t work.  Best to brush up on your map and compass skills.  I can see how easily it would be to become lost in the dunes.  The wind quickly erases your tracks, and the landscape is starkly white and barren.  In bright light, the terrain appears to flatten out and you can become disoriented.  The backcountry camping area has Carsonite posts marking the trail, these are set on high areas, making it easier to keep track of your location.  The other areas in the monument are not as well marked, so hikers be aware.

After lunch, I took advantage of my shade, listened to a lecture on Greek Mythology and napped.  It’s a great place to just hang out.  I didn’t have any bugs, no crowds of people, and only one military drone.  There are a lot of jet fly-overs, as the monument is located adjacent to an Air Force base, but I knew this going in.  The jets were nothing compared to the wind that came on around 5:00 pm.

I’d been checking the weather for a few days leading up to my trip, trying to average out the forecasts from NOAA, the Weather Channel, and AccuWeather.  NONE of them predicted tent-flattening, tarp-flying, sand-blasting microbursts.  If I’d had some sort of hammer-like device, I might’ve been okay, but without one I could not reset any of my tent stakes.  I packed up my tent and tarp, and in the process discovered that my sleeping bag was full of gypsum.  I packed that up too.  After sitting in a ball for 30 minutes, waiting to see what happened, I came to the conclusion that setting up a stove and preparing dinner in this was not going to happen.  Of course, that is when I decided that I was getting hungry.  At around 5:30 I stood up and took a look around.  A small wall of dust was building and heading my way, reminiscent of the 1930’s dust bowl photos my grandparents used to show me.  Enough.  I packed the rest of my stuff, put my shoes back on (you can run around barefoot as much as you want – no cactus) and hiked back to the car. 

As I was heading out, I passed several people hiking into their sites.  They looked about as excited for the wind as I was.  I now know how I’ll approach this when I go back.  Yes, despite my failed attempt, I am going to try again.  The place is just too amazing not to.  First: go in early to get your campsite, then go do something else until late afternoon.  Take a tent peg hammer.  Don’t hike in too early – it’s hot in the sun; there is no water, so you must carry it in; the wind will pick up in the early evening, making it difficult to prepare dinner.  You can minimize your exposure by going in later, after you’ve had dinner, for example.  Or, go in the Fall, when the wind isn’t such a problem.

Backcountry permits cost $3, the landscape is surreal, and the light reflecting off the gypsum is brilliant! Take a good pair of sunglasses, some sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed hat.  You can also buy a sled at the visitor’s center – the kids playing in the parking lot dunes seemed to enjoy them.

 

Frack and ruin: Archaeologists fear drilling could obliterate Chaco connections – : Art

There is nothing to see but the cracked yellow earth, wiry bunch grass, and saltbush. Nothing, that is, until a practiced eye begins spotting a scattering of tiny black and red potsherds. Their presence here, 16 miles north of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, along with their linear arrangement, as if they were used to mark a road, are part of a chain of clues that have been leading archaeologists farther and farther away from Chaco in their efforts to explain what Chaco was.

Source: Frack and ruin: Archaeologists fear drilling could obliterate Chaco connections – : Art

Mesa Verde National Park

Managed by the National Park Service, Mesa Verde is situated on top of Chapin Mesa in southwest Colorado, just thirty miles from Cortez on Hwy 160. The road to the park, and all interior roads open to the public, are paved.

What You Can See

There are over 4,000 known archeological sites in Mesa Verde National Park, ranging from Basketmaker II mesa top farm/village sites to Pueblo III cliff dwellings. Only a small percentage of the sites in the park have been excavated. Several of the spectacular cliff dwellings are accessible to the public via guided ranger tours. Stop by the visitors center on the way into the park to pick up a map and reserve a place on a tour. There are also several self-guided trails leading visitors to villages, pithouses and irrigation features.

Tips for Your Visit

Plan for two days to see both sides of the park. There are two main “loops” with plenty to see and do. There is a camp ground in the park, as well as a lodge and assorted dining facilities. If you plan to stay in the lodge or campground, make reservations early. They fill up quickly. There is a fee to enter the park, this varies depending on when you plan to visit. The pass is good for 7 days.

Grand Gulch In Bears Ears National Monument

Grand Gulch, part of the newly established Bears Ears National Monument, is a remote canyon system located south and west of Blanding, UT. Numerous sites dating from the Archaic period to PIII can be found here, as well as some of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the Southwest.

Backpacking in Lower Grand Gulch
Getting There

Located on State Route 261, the Kane Gulch Ranger Station is 4 miles south of US Hwy 95 at the upper entry point into Grand Gulch, visitors to the area need to stop by here and register with the ranger and pay the day use fee, or overnight fee if you are backpacking in the canyon. As the name implies, this is a non-developed, primitive recreation area. Access into the canyon is by foot travel, although horse/pack animal access is allowed in certain portions of the canyon. The trails in and out of the canyon can range from steep, slightly technical scrambles to long, flat sand washes with everything in between.

What You Can See

Besides the incredible scenery of the canyon itself, several archaeological sites including Jail House Ruin, Perfect Kiva and Junction Ruin, as well as dozens of granaries and rock art too numerous to count are all located in Grand Gulch, many within day-hiking range from the BLM Ranger station at Kane Gulch.

Surrounding Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa offers beautiful hiking, primitive car camping (in established sites) and opportunities to explore numerous mesa top sites.

Tips for Your Visit
Take only pictures

Transportation on Cedar Mesa can be an adventure in itself. The roads leading off of State route 261 consist of unimproved dirt roads, most requiring at least an all-wheel drive vehicle. Low clearance, 2-wheel drive cars may not get you where you want to go here. Keep in mind that the character of any one of the Cedar Mesa roads can change dramatically after one rain storm. Washouts, sandy areas and arroyo cutting are all part of the adventure.

Slick rock campsites – Leave No Trace

The ranger station has a good collection of books and maps for sale, focusing on the Grand Gulch/Cedar Mesa area. The rangers will also have information regarding which archaeological sites are open and accessible to the public. In addition, they have current water conditions and weather forecasts. Both are very important for anybody planning on venturing below the canyon rims. For more information on visiting archaeologically sensitive areas, check this link out.

 

Hera’s first backpacking trip

Ready to hit the trail

We rescued Hera, a cute Blue Heeler with not so cute issues, about 3 years ago.  Last summer, I decided that I’d like to try backpacking with her.  She’s a fearful dog so, while she is obedient 90% of the time, we always walk her on-leash.  Keeping her on a leash is our choice and not up for discussion.  That said, she’s very happy to carry a little backpack for day hikes.  She loves hiking!  I chose a 3-day hike to do that wouldn’t involve any technical/difficult scrambling or climbing, would have plenty of water and would be less popular with the masses – ie., not Lake Catherine.

For this adventure, I’d take my lightweight, 2-person tent (not enough room for myself and the dog in the Seedhouse).  She’s always done well in our big car-camping tent, so I didn’t forsee any problems.  Other than the bigger tent, and a bearproof canister for food, my kit would pretty much be the same that I always carry.  Hera would carry her little backpack, and in addition to the snacks she usually carries, she’d have a little, lightweight bedroll, some extra kibble and her collapsible food bowl.  We packed up, left details about our route and when we’d be home and headed out.  Once at the trailhead, I strapped her into her backpack, and me into mine and we started out.  Ten steps from the truck a loud clap of thunder announced that weather was over the ridge, and we might have some precipitation.  The trail wouldn’t take us anywhere exposed or up high, so I decided to continue on.  About 1/4 mile in, it started to hail – little, tiny hailstones.  I learned that Hera doesn’t like hail.

What is this devilry?

She actually managed to slip out of her backpack at one point, and just laid down in the trail.  We ducked under a large boulder and let the hail pass.  Once she was back into her pack, and it had quit hailing we continued on.

 

Lunchtime came and I chose a little meadow area, near a creek to stop and eat.  She wasn’t sure about eating out in a meadow.  The kibble was completely unappetizing so, I offered her a sausage snack.  That was apparently adequate trail food.  We kept going, passed through a fairly heavy rain squall, hiked up and out of a fog bank, and managed to make about 9 miles.  She was a trooper.  I chose a nice campsite, overlooking a meadow complete with a little trout stream, and some elk.

Elk watching

I got her dried off, set up the tent, hung the bear canister and we settled in for the evening.  I’m not sure she was having much fun.  From the look on her face, she was skeptical.  After dinner, we took a walk down to the creek where she saw her first free-swimming fish.  She was more than happy to crawl into the tent for the night.  I was quite pleased with the results of her first day out, and she didn’t snore at all.

Where is this place and when do we go home?

The next day we packed up for a day-hike.  No backpack for her! I carried my little summit pack with our food and my water.  We did a nice loop hike, exploring several large meadows and low ridge tops.  I don’t think she was much impressed with the scenery, but LOVED rolling in the fresh grass – we don’t have any at home.

Grass!

Back to camp for our last evening.  Unfortunately, the mosquitoes discovered our location and took a special interest in Hera.  I sprayed my bandana with Ben’s and laid that across her while I ate dinner.  It seemed to help.

Tents are just big, soft-sided doghouses

We slept in, and after breakfast and one last walk down to our trout stream, packed up and started hiking out.  We had good weather for the return trip and made good time.  There were even several bovines near the trailhead for Hera’s entertainment.  She loves cows, it’s in her genes.  As much as I would have enjoyed watching her scatter them, I kept her on leash.

We got back to the truck, ditched our packs and headed home.  I did stop at a drive-thru for a burger and fries.  Hera loves drive-thrus.  She knows that those people mean food, and are somehow ok.  She’s never once tried to keep them at bay.

Ready for a cheeseburger