Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's beginning to look alot like... April?

We have been watching the snow melt away quickly from the lower elevations here, and being from Texas, felt a slight twang of loss as the pretty snow left the nearby mesas and canyons behind. Imagine my surprise to wake up on Thurs the 22nd to several inches of snow on the ground. Fortunately the roads were in great condition, and we were able to look around a little before getting to work.

Earlier in the week, we had spent a warm afternoon surveying nearby Yucca House Pueblo for several weeds, such as Whitetop (aka Hoary Cress), Knapweed, and the ever present Musk Thistle. We found a huge claret cup cactus that was getting ready to bloom. The ruins themselves are difficult to appreciate: only one wall still stands, and the great kiva looks more like a crater. Large mounds are all that's left of one of the largest pueblos in the area. What was exciting was the vast number of sherds we saw, some with enough painting and markings to be identifiable. This ruin is still unexcavated, so it will be certain to thrill the archeologists who choose to research it.

The following day was spent on Weatherhill Mesa, which is still closed. This summer will be exciting there as a new trail is being opened up to view Mug House Ruin. Something up there has been feasting on the Yucca, so that's a mystery we need to solve. Wild horses still roam the park, mostly at the behest of the neighboring Ute Tribe. However, horses are not native to north america (well, there have been other species of horses in ages long long ago, but not the modern Equus). They are beautiful animals, and those in the park are certainly wild, but if there is no way to keep a balance, both the habitat and the horse will suffer. As you might guess, we suspect horses may be the culprit.

This weekend was mostly spent playing house again (we scored a TV, loveseat, and stuffed elephant - among other treasures)! Sunday, we managed to tour the Canyon of the Ancients. We stopped at Lowry Pueblo and had the place all to ourselves. There is a very interesting Great Kiva there with strange structures inside. The mural inside the indoor kiva was deteriorating, but can now be seen at the Anazasi Cultural center. After that, we toured Painted Hand Pueblo, which so far has been my favorite "wild" archeological site. Very mystical feeling to the area. Further down the road is Hovenweep, which is a large collection of sites. They have a new visitor center and campground, with many ruins nearby. A canyon wren has set up home inside the Castle, and a Raven was laughing at us from Square Tower for having to hike around the canyon. Our brief foray into Utah brought us closer to the Abajo and La Sal mountains, still wreathed in snow. They are a little lower in elevation, so perhaps will be the first mountains we venture into... assuming they haven't been overrun with ORV trails.

Wish me luck for next week: red card refresher complete with pack test is on the schedule!

ps - just a reminder to readers: you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Anasazis in April

It's still early spring, and it looks like it's arriving slowly here in Montezuma county. Until the snow melts at higher elevations, don't expect too many alpine photos. Some ski areas were still operating on weekends, but we didn't want to risk bad weather on Lizard Head pass -- no snow tires, no chains, no 4wd, no dice.

Instead, this week was wisely spent exploring the lower canyonlands of the Four Corners region, which contain thousands of archeological sites. One of my job responsibilities is to measure and map the flow rates of various springs and seeps at Mesa Verde National Park. We took advantage of nice weather to visit Balcony House ruins, which contains amazingly preserved architecture and two springs which were used by the Cliff Dwellers as a municipal drinking well. These springs are important biologically because they create moist microclimates where ferns, mosses, and even orchids can thrive, some of which are endemic to Mesa Verde.

It was really exciting to be exploring 800 year old ruins as part of my job! Sometimes, it's hard to believe I'm getting paid for this, until we return to the office to keep cramming for our upcoming pesticide licensing. The Red Card refresher course, complete with the dreaded pack test, is also looming on the horizon. Maybe they should call it the "regrunger" course?
If you're jealous that I get paid for this, don't fret too much, because for the next two weeks you can get into Mesa Verde for free. This is because the Spruce Tree House is closed for reconstructing the trails, and isn't scheduled to be complete for a few weeks.

On Saturday, we made the short drive north to Dolores to see the Galloping Goose. The Engineer came out from the station and graciously opened the museum for us. He was very informative, explaining both the interesting history of the Goose, but also information of the upcoming railroad events in Colorado. His enthusiasm was contagious, and his excitement stemmed from their great work in restoring Goose No. 5 to operating condition. It's small enough to be transferred by truck to the D&S and Cumbres & Toltec narrow gauge rails, so we are looking into riding the rails once again.

From Dolores, it's a short drive to the excellent Anasazi Cultural Center, which contain many exhibits and have a short trail up the hill to the ruins of Escalante Pueblo. The receptionist at the museum was also very friendly and helpful, providing us with much information about the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument that extend all across the area. So we spent Sunday afternoon exploring the ruins nearby. The first site is Sand Canyon Pueblo, which is seldom visited. We were all alone, except with the snowy head of Sleeping Ute watching us from over the ridge. Sand Canyon is archeologically very important because it was one of the largest pueblos in this region (bigger than Cliff Palace) and one of the last pueblos to be occupied, being abandoned around 1280 AD. Most of the walls have crumbled, and archeologists chose to rebury rather than reconstruct the ruins in order to preserve them. After that, we spent a short hike along the Hawkins Preserve trail, which contains several archeological sites. I was very excited to find a pottery shard along the trail! We took some macro photos of the nondescript shard and placed it back where we found it, near some spoil heaps just south of the main pueblo. We found out later that shards are not uncommon along the trail, and that we are indeed to never remove an artifact. In general this is very excellent advice: never remove historical artifacts from where you find them (unless they are in immediate danger).

We spent the evening sipping wine and reviewing the day, watching Canadian Geese, Coots, and Buffleheads swim in the pond below and recalling the Golden Eagle that was just down the road. The Buffleheads will soon be gone, and thus mark the end of spring.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ski Mesa Verde

Yowza! We made it to our new cabin and have mostly settled in, and after much phone finagling we were able to get online once again. I began work yesterday, which was mostly an orientation and paperwork shuffle. We're a six person crew this year, so we have high hopes that we will more than double the productivity of last season's 3-person crew.

Leaving work yesterday, it was 70 degrees and REALLY windy, with gusts easily topping 30mph. It kicked up a huge dust storm that momentarily obscured the nearby mountain ranges and gave the sky an eerie metallic cast. As they say in many places, if you don't like the weather in Colorado, just wait a few minutes... yeah, heard that before. Woke up this morning to 28 degrees and snowfall! The drive up the mesa was ok, but looked like it could get sketchy.

Then, by lunch time it had warmed up and the snow melted away. We went for a short walk along Soda Butte to a burn area from 2008 to check on musk thistle. Found 20 rosettes, which we manually eradicated from the area! Hooray! Our first kill of the season! Things will pick up once we get our herbicide licenses. Along the hike, we found this interesting basin with a small hole that may be an archeological site. We took a picture to show the experts for tomorrow.

Leaving Texas behind during it's best month was hard to do; wildflowers everywhere and beautiful weather. But now that we're here, it's great to enjoy the great outdoors.