Dig, Dig, Dig!

Saturday, June 15 – Today I worked at the visitor center so I had some time to catch up on cataloging photos and collecting my thoughts.

First – the archeological dig last Monday! We knew that the day was going to be hot, but I honestly cannot ever remember being coated with dust over every square inch of my body – exposed and unexposed!! We probably hit 100 degrees that day and as a result had to rotate between shady and non-shady jobs. I got to work in the shade most of the day, but volunteered to give someone else a break in the afternoon and dug with a handheld pick. The dust glommed onto the sunblock I had applied and made me look like a grey, wrinkly mummy by days end! Sorry – no photos of the mummy me!

We were also a little concerned as we drove to the site because we got closer and closer to the fire that had started the day before – now known as the Silver Fire. It is still uncontained after all these days, but is not making news because only a small town is threatened. The fires in Colorado are making national news because of the hundreds of homes destroyed and 2 lives to-date lost. Highway 152 through the eastern wilderness is now closed. That is the route that I drove when I went to Las Cruces and White Sands last week. It is heartbreaking to think of the devastation wrought by fire – whether it is started by careless humans or lightning. Below is a photo of the sun rising through the smoke of the fire when we arrived at the archeological site:

s-1a-Day 2 of Silver Fire fm Stewart Site

From left to right: Nicole (student), Aaron (doctoral candidate in charge of this dig), Marilyn (local resident heavily involved in archeology), and Kathy and John (fellow long-term cliff dwelling volunteers and archeology specialists).


Marilyn and her jackrabbit mascot: at a dyslexia fundraising event her sister bought her this lovely wooden rabbit painted in the Mimbres pottery style (black on white and very whimsical in design). The jackrabbit comes to all the digs with Marilyn and she took photos of him sitting by the river, having lunch with us, etc. The people of the Mimbres area (very close to here) made the black and white pottery while the people of the cliff dwelling area/era made a plainer brownish or red pottery.

 s-1c-Marilyn and Mascot

The dig (sunny) and sifting (shady) areas: Aaron told us that during the 1970s pot hunters would figure out where ancient dwellings were located, identify the walls and bring bulldozers to scrape away the earth until they located pots. Pots were often buried with the dead under the floor along the interior walls. In some cultures serving bowls would be placed over the face of the deceased. A hole was made in the center of the bottom of the bowl so that spirit of the deceased could ascend to a higher spiritual level. Unfortunately, the pothunters had no respect for the bodies of the deceased and would carelessly toss them aside. When we uncover bodies or remains, we respectfully store them, and then at the end of the dig the archeologist contacts Hopi tribal authorities and arranges for a ceremonial re-internment on the dig site or other sacred lands. The Zuni and Hopi of the Albuquerque area have been biologically linked to the people of this area.

s-1d-Dig Area s-1e-Sifting for Buried treasure

Tuesday, June 11 – Trip to SaddleMountain Lookout

Today I drove about 5 hours to meet John and Melissa Forsythe. John is retired from Big Bend National Park and Melissa is retired from teaching school at the park school, too.  (We were introduced via email by Mike and Nancy Coe from Big Bend when they realized that we would both be working in the Gila this year.) One of Melissa’s dreams was to work in a fire watch tower so she is working on her bucket list! John helps out but is pretty much free to do as he wishes with his time. They are both avid backcountry hikers so most days off they are out camping and hiking.

Below are photos of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness from a wayside vista and views of the trip up Saddle Mountain. I especially love the sign that states “Dangerous Mountain Trail”!

s-1a-Aldo Leopold Wilderness Vista s-1b-Drive up Saddle Mtn s-1c-Dangerous Park Trail s-1d-Saddle Mtn Sign

Next, Melissa shows off the outhouse and her mascot.

s-1e-Melissa Showing off the outhouse s-1f2-Melissa Showing off Beaver Mascot

Here is “home sweet home”, a 12’ x 12’ space complete with stove, refrigerator, fold-out bed with drawers beneath and all the equipment, compasses, maps, etc. for watching for fires. Sorry, no restroom – you have to climb down the stairs to use the outhouse!

s-1f-Home Sweet Home 12x12

John and Melissa leave the fire tower 2 days each week when a relief man takes over. During those 2 days off they stay two hours away in Glenwood in a trailer provided by the fire service. I am sorry that I somehow missed getting any photos of John! But he called Melissa and me down from the tower to get these photos of  a horned toad that lives up on the mountain with them. There are black bear, too, but most of them stay a little further down the mountain (good!).

s-1g2 s-1g-Horned Toad

Wednesday, June 12 – Hiking down to Hinkle Park, Drive Home

The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful view of sunrise from the tower. John cooked his world famous egg sandwiches and I got to see how Melissa’s workday begins. She makes notes about the weather, wind direction, temperatures, and forest conditions and then calls in via radio to the dispatch center. If she spots any smoke she determines the location and coordinates, then calls in to dispatch. With the help of other fire tower observers the exact location is confirmed and a fire fighting crew is usually onsite within minutes assuming conditions are okay for the helicopter to fly.

s-1a-Sunrise from Saddle Mountain

Since it was a short 2.5 mile hike down to Hinkle Park where my car was parked I reluctantly left at a little after 10:00 a.m. Of course, I was watching out for bear and a little disappointed that I did not get to see any. Melissa has seen bear prints on her morning runs and a day or two after I left she saw a bear up in a ponderosa pine at Hinkle Park eating the tree! Awesome!!!  The only fun things I saw were a very noisy Acorn woodpecker in the top of a dead tree and the one remaining lily in the meadow before I got to my car. The Acorn woodpecker was so large and incredibly noisy that when I was able to identify him I almost could not believe it. He reminded me of the pileated woodpeckers I saw raising heck in southern Illinois.

s-1b-Hinkle Park s-1c1-Dead Tree at Hinkle s-1c2-Acorn Woodpecker at Hinkle Park s-1c3 s-1d1-LastLilly at Hinkle s-1d2 s-1e-Lilly Field

June 13-17 – The Workweek & Another Dig Day

Not too much going on at work this last week. One of the highlights was seeing a small herd of elk, including a calf, on my way home from work one day. No pictures – just the image of the big bull standing in the road (as I reached for my camera – not quick enough!) and the mama elk gently guiding her baby away through the woods with the herd. The highlights for me were that new volunteers & friends, Jari and Greg from Colorado, and John and Delona (friends from Big Bend!) arrived! All of them went on the dig Monday (June 17) and it was sure fun to have a big crew. After the dig, I rode with Jari and Greg to Silver City to do some shopping and have gelato (yum!). We drove through the town of Mimbres where acres and acres of fire fighter encampment was set up. They had all flown in to fight the Silver Fire and I was truly amazed at the number of people, cook tents, and other facilities had been set up. Here are some photos from the dig. First, a little toad had set up a home under the tarps overnight!

s-1a-Good morning toad

Next, a photo of Aaron (head of the dig and PhD candidate), Greg and Jari, & John and Delona.

s-1b-Morning Briefing

Here Aaron is giving a little more information about the pueblo and one of the main timbers which would have supported the roof of this large pit house. I am keeping my fingers crossed that he and the other professionals will be able to extract the post. In this photo it has been wrapped in string. Next they will pour paraffin over the timber, wrap it with cotton batting and try to extract it. If it holds together they may be able to have it dated via dendrochronology (tree ring study) or other method.

s-1c-Aaron giving tour s-1d-Main post

The neighbors are watching!! Marilyn told me that on the two previous days they had watched a lizard eat a big millipede and the next day they watched a snake eat the lizard! Cool!

s-1e-Being watched by neighbors

And some miscellaneous photos of the workday:

s-1f-Amy digging s-1g s-1h s-1i s-1j

Tuesday, June 18 – A Day Digging with Lots of Archeologists!

I was the only rookie at today’s dig. Aaron, Marilyn and other archeologists, Darrel, Bob and Nancy were also there. I had fun just keeping my nose to the gritty job of digging while they dug, then discussed theories, dug and discussed . . .


Lunchtime at the river:

s-1b-lunch time at river s-1c s-1d

The real shocker of the day was how the Silver fire seemed to have grown! It appeared to be so much closer this afternoon as we crested the hill above the dig area!

s-1e-Fire Grows

From yesterday afternoon, below is a photo of the fire from closer to the place where I live. I just spoke to our acting park superintendent a few moments ago and he said the forest service is estimating the fire will grow another 6,000 acres today because of the wind and high temperatures. For most of the last several weeks, we have had temperatures in the 90s. One day we had a little rain and the temperature dropped to the 70s for about 2 hours. I was FREEZING working at the cliff dwellings that afternoon!

s-1f-Fire from closer to home

I am resting today! I have blisters on my fingers from swinging the rock hammer and new muscles which are sprouting on my forearm too! Zuni appreciates me being home and has worked extra hard to make me giggle with her bird-chasing-through-the-window antics.

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1 Response to Dig, Dig, Dig!

  1. Elizabeth Holman says:

    Hi Amy,   I love your blog , especially the big horned toad at the fire tower.  Isn’t he or she a charmer?  Everything seems so interesting out there.  I so hope the fire hasn’t come your way.  And it was so nice that you called too.  Hope you’ve recovered a bit from the dig and that Zuni is enjoying your being home.  No news except that it is hot here, though it rained this afternoon and cooled it off a bit.  But heat and humidity increase again tomorrow and continue until next Wednesday in the mid 90s.  Takw care, honey.   Love, Mom

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