The march of progress may be a step backwards for cultural resources
We drove along the twisted route of new roads created for the well pads to accommodate the flurry of drilling for natural gas. Until a few years ago, this area of the forest was so remote we had to walk or ride horseback to where we were going.Earlier this year, we had driven ATVs as far as we could on these new roads to try and record a special site, but thundershowers accompanied by lightning had forced a hasty retreat. All we had been able to complete was photographing the wickiups and taking a reading from our Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) unit. Before that trip, I hadn’t been to the site for years.A local rancher had been so protective of the Ute camp that it took some persuasion to convince him to take us there on horseback. We promised we would do nothing to reveal its location except bring in Ute Elders to help us decide how to best protect and manage it. That never happened, because the aging Ute Elder we consult with has health issues if he rides horses for more than a few hours.There was a sense of urgency attached to this third trip. It may be our last.A few days ago, it was reported to us that the site had been damaged in what we call an ARPA case. ARPA stands for the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, and addresses damaging or destroying heritage resources that are more than 100 years old. A conviction in federal court of ARPA violations carries heavy fines and jail time.Over the last year there have been three possible ARPA cases reported to us, one of which was settled before trial. That’s more than all the previously reported cases since I came to Colorado 22 years ago.Is this the price we pay for progress?We parked the jeep at the end of the road and started walking down a steep ridge to the toe of the slope some 1,000 feet below. Not far into the juniper woodlands, we found a small clump of plants that reminded me of my native New Mexico. It’s the northernmost occurrence of the desert yucca that I’d ever seen.The perfect fall weather warmed us to the point that we shed our coats while stopping for lunch. Finally coming upon the site, we were pleased we found no damage.It took us most of the day to properly record the few wickiups standing after the Ute Indians were forced from this country some 130 years ago. Wickiups are smaller versions of the tipi, and they often have juniper trees to support the six to nine upright poles over which brush or canvas was stretched. Each wooden structure was carefully measured. Andrea filled out a site form while I mapped everything related to the site with a Brunton pocket transit.History was held in our hands, a small glass button found inside one of the wickiups.We were lucky … this time.With more than 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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