Wilderness Volunteers: 2017 Dark Canyon, Manti-La Sal National Forest Service Trip
The Dark Canyon Wilderness is a spectacular canyon wilderness in southeastern Utah that was the ancestral home of Puebloan peoples for 5,000 years. Dark Canyon is rich in biological, geological, archaeological, and historical significance, and is also one of the most colorful canyon systems on the Colorado Plateau. Dark Canyon begins on Elk Ridge at an elevation of 8,800 feet, then cuts through Cedar Mesa sandstone formations dramatically framed amidst a forest of ponderosa pine on its 5,000-foot descent to the upper reaches of Lake Powell. It is remote, harsh, and spectacularly beautiful. At various times residents of the canyon hunted on the mesa tops, grew maize, squash and beans on canyon terraces, gathered pinyon nuts on the plateaus, and hunted turkey and deer in the high ponderosa pine forests. They built cliff-dwellings and grain storage warehouses, made pottery in a variety of styles, and fashioned tools from the mineral resources of the canyon- accomplishments we moderns would be challenged to match.
Our ongoing service project with Manti-La Sal National Forest archaeologists is surveying remote parts of the Dark Canyon system for artifacts and ancestral sites. We split into small teams, each led by an archaeologist, and slowly walked the canyon looking for stone tools and flakes, projectile points, pot sherds and the remains of ancient structures. Forest Service staff provided us with training on how stone tools and artifacts were made, the different styles of tools and pottery used, and how to find artifacts and document the sites where they are found.
Although it may seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, the area is rich with artifacts. Volunteers found dozens of artifacts including pot sherds, projectile points and stone tools, as well as previously undocumented cliff dwellings. On our free day we explored the canyon and hiked to ruins.
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2017 Dark Canyon Service Trip (Archeological)