Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gunnison Gorge & Crawford, CO (6/10/2017)

Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area is a large tract of the adobe badlands I sometimes refer to, actually consisting of volcanic ash that has hardened into near rock density.  Located just north of the Black Canyon, some rafting and kayaking is done in the Gunnison River through the gorge.  The conservation area, managed by BLM, is mostly used for ATV operation.  Frankly, it is raw, desolate land suitable for almost no other use.

In researching for something else, I stumbled upon a reference to Eagle Rock Shelter Archeological Site.  Digging deeper, I learned this site, only about 35 miles from home, is where some of the oldest human artifacts in the country have been found.  Evidence proves that humans used this area as far back as 12,800 years.  I had to make a visit to such a special place.

Getting to this site isn't difficult at all.  A couple miles on a dirt road, rocky in places but pretty tame overall, led to a gravel parking area and an unsigned trailhead.  The trail is good, dropping about 200 feet into the gorge over 1/3 mile.  It was one of our hottest days, 95F, so I knew the return would be a little tougher than the trip down.  Before reaching the floor of the gorge, the trail rounded a rock outcropping and I saw the remnants of the excavation.

I later read that the archeological team had concluded that all the artifacts had been found, so the excavation seems to have been abandoned, but looks ready for further work if someone decides it is warranted.  The rock walls are covered with petroglyphs, but erosion and other factors have rendered many of them indecipherable.  A few animals can be identified, probably more recent additions.  While petroglyphs can't be definitively dated, some are thought to be at least 4000 years old.

Among the oldest artifacts are seeds and small animal bones, indicating the people were not big game hunters.

Since I still had plenty of time that afternoon, I decided to visit Needle Rock, another twenty miles from Gunnison Gorge, near the town of Crawford.  Needle Rock is a volcanic plug, but was formed differently than the others I've written about.  In this case, magma was being pushed toward the surface in the process of forming a volcano.  However, the layers of sedimentary rock above were hard enough to prevent breaking the surface.  The magma eventually hardened and the higher layers eroded away, leaving the exposed plug.  All this took about 25 million years.
The formation looks much different on the far side.
Leaving the area, I was struck by the pretty valley and surrounding mountains, wondering if the farmers and ranchers appreciated their great views.  I also came across a ranch that raises yaks, the first I've seen in Colorado.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Montrose, CO (6/4 & 6/10/2017)

Although I'm not traveling right now, I do want to share with you some of my recent activities in and around Montrose. 

On a lovely Sunday afternoon, I drove to Black Canyon National Park to visit a friend who happens to be the campground host there this summer.  Hearing reports of bear activity, particularly in the bottom of the canyon by the Gunnison River, I went down to see what I could find.  The river was raging with all the snowmelt, and the wild lupines were blooming nicely.  After a thorough search to no avail, I started the steep drive out of the canyon.  Along the way, I encountered several grouse, including my first sighting of a male dusky grouse strutting to impress a cutie.  This is a sight that not everyone gets to see, so I decided to show you some of the photos I got.

This is the object of his affection, a shy little lady enthralled by his performance.
On June 10, I attended the grand re-opening of the local Ute Indian Museum.  This facility, one of eight state-wide managed by the non-profit organization History Colorado, has been closed for nearly two years for renovation and expansion.  The celebration was attended by people from all over Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.  Of course, the three tribes of Utes participated in planning the new museum and the opening ceremonies.  Many tribe members wore ceremonial costumes, played traditional music and performed tribal dances.  Even a few palefaces took part in the dancing.

Musical instruments
The museum uses artwork and actual artifacts to convey the history, culture and traditions of the Ute tribes.  Chief Ouray, long considered to have been primarily responsible for establishing peace with early settlers, and his wife Chipeta have been honored in many ways.  A county and a town are named for him, while she is actually buried on the grounds of the museum, located on a road named for her.

The art displayed is truly impressive, not to mention the various crafts associated with the clothing, tools and housing for tribe members.

As can be seen, the Utes were/are masters of tanning animal hides, bead work and  various art forms.  However, they are also noted for their superior horsemanship, going back to around 1640 when they were the first tribe to acquire horses.  It started when a small band of Utes were captured by the Spanish and later escaped, bringing Spanish horses with them.  They gained a great advantage for hunting, and in battle with their adversaries, by training their horses to excel in the rocky, mountainous terrain in which they lived.  They still consider the horse to be a sacred animal.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rangely, CO (5/24 & 5/25/2017)

After a week in NE Utah, I returned to Colorado, stopping for a couple days in the small town of Rangely, population around 3000.  Oil and gas production is the mainstay of Rangely's economy, with one of the largest oil fields in the country located nearby.  The town also works hard at its tourist industry, promoting some of its unique features, but really doesn't want to become a large city.  Their web site declares "We don't have it all, nor do we want to".

When Fathers Dominguez and Escalante came through this area in 1776 to find a better route from Santa Fe to California, they discovered ancient rock art on the canyon walls and named it "Canon Pintado (Painted Canyon).  Since then, more than fifty rock art sites have been identified, and fifteen or so are documented in the town's tour guide for the public to visit.  The art consists of both petroglyphs and pictographs, created by the older Fremont culture as well as the Utes in more recent times.  I went to most of the sites, some of which are so small as to be disappointing after the effort required to access them.  Since most people have less interest in this subject than I do, I will show photos only of those that are unusual.

One site, located deep in a gully, contains pictographs in both red and blue dyes.  It's called the "Carrott Man Site" because of the shapes used to depict human figures.  Actually, I think you could argue that aliens are the subjects here.  Notice that some of the figures were lost when part of the rock fell off.
Any images of horses were done by the Utes, since horses were not present here until brought in by the Spanish in the 16th century.  One depicts the horse stolen from General Crook, clearly marked with the general's brand.  Nearby, a cowboy engraved the phrase "we are here because we ain't in hell, but we are on our way".  Also, a Basque sheepherder engraved his name and date (in 1975) along with an image of a "pin-up girl".  Apparently, some locals took offense and shot up the artist's masterpiece.

A site called "Waving Hands" (for obvious reasons) is very unusual, as is the "White Birds" location.

One of the larger sites has not only an unusual piece of rock art, but also the remains of a cowboy line shack, used for round-ups, and pieces of petrified wood sticking out of the sandstone.

A figure called Kokopelli, similar to the mythical flute player from the Anasazi culture, was another victim of rock breakage.  Note how the broken part has been re-attached with a cable.
The Fremont Indians lived in pit houses that have long since been covered by earth and haven't been excavated, and the Utes lived in teepees as part of their nomadic lifestyle, so there are no Indian ruins to be seen.  However, I did locate a colony of nests built by cliff swallows, one beak-full of mud at a time.

Beyond the large number of archeological sites, Rangely is home to a unique phenomenon called "The Tank International Center For Sonic Arts".  An abandoned water tank, sixty-five feet tall, has amazing sound reverberation qualities.  I met the man who discovered these properties in 1976 when he crawled into it through a small inspection door  He and the lady who now runs it gave me a tour and invited me to "make a note, any note".  Although I was reluctant, not having any singing ability, I did make an "Ahhhh".  The two of them joined in with harmonizing notes, making an incredible sound.  The acoustics are so good in The Tank, even I sounded pretty good.  It is in constant use as a recording studio.
Rangely also has a history museum and an automobile museum, both of which looked interesting, but I passed on them.  Because of the oil industry, the many canyons in the area are full of dirt roads that attract off-road vehicle drivers (like me).  They also have a 560 acre park for rock crawling vehicles (not for me).  The mountains and mesas nearby are home to a large number of wild horses, some of which I encountered on a previous visit, as well as what they claim to be the largest elk population in the world.  The White River flows through town and a dam just east of town creates the Kenney Reservoir, great for all water activities and a good spot for watching sunsets.

  I'll be home for a while now, enjoying my grand-daughter, Lauren, who will be visiting for the summer, working in a local thoroughbred stable.