Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 3

Vandalism at a petroglyph site.

Yes. Yes! In San Juan County, during my field school years in the mid-80s, I saw shocking pot hunting damage firsthand, sites hit very badly. I’m haunted by memories of human skulls and other remains churned up and tossed aside—men, women, children, including a child’s mummified foot—remains meaningful to diggers only as signs that grave good such as pots, jewelry, or other marketable artifacts might lie nearby. The exposed human remains don’t trouble me so much for their grim “to this we must all come” reminders, though there’s always something show-stopping about coming upon human bones. Nor do they impress me for the disturbing evidence they offer of the pot hunters’ disregard for law. To me, what’s telling is the pot hunters’ complete reduction of a culture and its members to “the good stuff”, the shrinking of life and its cultural contexts to mere “things” having market value. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 3”


Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 1


2015 July 5 cliff dwelling at trailhead
Small Ancestral Puebloan dwelling in a side canyon at the head of Crossfire Canyon

Backstory: On 6/11/2009, in a raid dubbed “Operation Cerberus Action”, a large contingent of federal agents descended on San Juan County, Utah, and arrested several Blanding and Monticello residents for the illegal theft, selling, and trade of protected Native American antiquities. Among them was the esteemed Dr. James Redd, a longtime resident of the area. Dr. Redd was indicted, but the day following his arrest, after recording a long message to his family, he took his own life. This tragedy on top of the already shocking show of force resulted in unforeseen effects, some of which are still in play today, in the questionable prosecution of Rose Chilcoat and her husband Mark Franklin, for instance, for allegedly endangering livestock. This post expands on an earlier post titled “Getting Digs In.” The chapter has grown in length, so I’ve broken it into 3 parts.

June 13, 2009. Two days after Operation Cerberus took the town by thunderclap, and a day after Dr. James Redd committed suicide, I came up out of Crossfire and heard voices above me, near the trailhead. The town was still shaking, stunned by shock, outrage, and grief. I felt curious to see who might be coming into the canyon. I glimpsed a woman on the rocks overhead, well off the trail, turning back in response to a companion’s call. Picking up my step to intercept them, I caught up with two retirement-aged women—out-of-towners—as one helped the other over the arched rebar cattle guard at the trailhead. Something about them said, “Colorado”. They didn’t see me approaching, so I greeted them then asked where they were from. They were coy about answering, saying only they were visiting.

“You?” they asked.

I answered that I lived up the road but was not originally from the area. “Are you going to see the cliff dwelling?” I asked. There’s a two-story Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling a little off the beaten trail in the crease between the cliffs’ base and the talus slope. I thought they might be hiking in to see that.

The woman who seemed most willing to engage in conversation said, “Yes.” Then she pointed to the yellow, green and white, heavy-gauge aluminum, BLM sign posted at the trailhead announcing the canyon’s 2007 closure to off-highway vehicles. “But we really wanted to see this,” she said. Continue reading “Excerpt from Showdown at Crossfire Canyon: Getting Digs In, Part 1”

Field Notes #10

March 15, 2010.   This winter paved the desert over, storm after storm laying down two-to-three feet of whitetop, setting spring back by more than half a month.   Since December 21st, I’ve been out only rarely, the deep snow creating hazards well beyond my abilities to negotiate them.   Who knew that when I moved to southeastern Utah I’d find myself wanting a pair of snowshoes?   Last year I hiked all the way through winter, staying home only when snowfall piled up over eight inches, which it hardly ever did.

I tried going out yesterday.   An overnight cloud cover had insulated the ground against a freeze.   The result: dense but soft snow, still ranging in many   place from 10-20 inches deep, and on bare ground mud so fluid that, holding still, you moved, gliding on a sloppy escalator whichever direction happened to be €œdown. €   Every step on snow resulted in a 10-20 inch drop straight to the ground, a vertical fall I’ve learned to move with on a limited basis. The body learns from falling, but when it happens every footstep, you expend a great deal of energy moving the least distance forward.   Meanwhile each footfall on mud resulted in movement barely under control in an only slightly less vertical plane.   Downhill in spots I surfed muddy rolls and creases, riding the soles of my shoes like mini-shortboards. Continue reading “Field Notes #10”

WIZ’s late summer/early fall gallery

We’ve added new pictures to the revolving gallery, not many because we spent much of the summer working at surviving rather than traipsing about the backrocks looking for photo ops.   You’ll recognize a few favorites we left up: the aspens in Kane Gulch, scarlet gilia, the boot and hoof prints, etc.  

Here’s a list of the new pics.

One of ten Elberta peaches our sapling trees produced this year–their first crop.

Tha Hurd: these are the horses I’ve been writing about in my “Horse opera” posts, minus the palomino gelding.   Left to right: the rear end of the palomino foal, its mother (I thought she was a palomino, but now I think she might be a bay with a flaxen mane), the silver dun (note her cool dorsal stripe), and the yellow dun stallion.   In the foreground, my daughter Val and her ponytail.

Pepis wasp–also called a tarantula hawk–on horsetail milkweed (also there’s an ant).   We had a stand of this erupt in the yard this summer.   It’s considered an invasive species and is also toxic to stock, but we have no stock.   The variety of insects the milkweed drew into the yard astounded and delighted us.   I think it valuable for how many species it supports.   Tarantula wasps up to two inches long flew  in, following  scent trails of the milkweed’s pollen.   Our European paper wasps visited the milkweed, along with golden digger wasps, mud daubers, American paper wasps, and a host of others we have yet to identify.    

A butterfly–species unknown–and a wasp or hornet–species also unknown–on the milkweed.

Grizzly bear prickly pear fruit.   These turned even redder before dropping off the pads.  

Masonry walls in a side canyon emptying into Crossfire Canyon.   These walls and structures  whose photos we’ve added  date back to later stages of the prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) occupation of southeastern Utah and other Four Corners states.  

An Ancestral Puebloan  structure tucked into  a narrow alcove in the same side-canyon.    

A detail of the double lintel beam in the above structure.   I thought it was interesting as well as pleasing to the eye.

Masonry structure from another angle with interesting shadow and light play around it.

A masonry doorway into another structure in the side canyon.   I love this doorway–it looks like it leads into deeper mystery.   Or maybe into Shelob’s lair.

An upright lizard, a fence swift.   These lizards seem to like having their pictures taken.   Other lizards won’t stand for it.   What I really want is a picture of a collared lizard or a Colorado collared lizard.   Very flashy, and they will also smile for the camera.

Close-up  of a horse skull that I found, part of a nearly  complete skeleton.

A detail of the above horse’s cervical (neck) bones, still mostly articulated.   I find this picture fascinating.

Fuzzy stuff–not entirely sure what it is.   Old man’s beard, maybe?

As usual, profound thanks to son Saul for taking all these pictures.