Surveys examine state's newest monuments
By ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN, Associated Press Writer
December 14, 2004
The high-desert vistas are stunning, the buttes and canyons dotting its vast landscapes awesome, the remoteness – and the silence – profound.
And so is the history lying on and in the ground over much of the sprawling Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs national monuments, more than 1 million acres of unspoiled and uninhabited geological wonders in the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon. They're among the most remote lands in the lower 48 states.
But it wasn't always uninhabited, and that's why two 10-member teams of archaeologists and other volunteers spent five days each in early November surveying a tiny part of each monument, hoping to ensure that irreplaceable artifacts dating across thousands of years are not stolen or vandalized.
Evidence of a great deal of archaeological material abounds - rock art, structures, pieces of pottery - even without digging, which the surveying project avoided, said Jill Ozarski, Colorado Plateau monuments coordinator for the Wilderness Society.
The teams examined some 40 miles along roads or trails designated on BLM maps.
The area represented "a fraction of 1 percent" of the monuments, said archaeologist Peter Bunghart of Flagstaff, whom the Wilderness Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation hired to conduct the surveys.
Only about 3 percent of the Arizona Strip territory including the monuments has been inventoried, said Diana Hawks, planning leader for the federal Bureau of Land Management's resource management plan for the monuments.
"It would take scores of architects years to put a dent in that much territory," Bunghart said.
Hawks said it would cost about $31 million to conduct an archaeological inventory throughout the Parashant. The BLM has one staff archaeologist assigned for the Arizona Strip's entire 3.2 million acres, including the Parashant monument on the west, the Vermilion Cliffs to the east and land between, she said.
Bunghart's surveys placed three to four people spaced 20 meters apart systematically walking along designated routes. The found probably a few dozen sites, he said.
"The fact is that virtually everywhere we surveyed, we found sites along the roads," said Bunghart, who will use the findings to extrapolate what's likely to be found throughout the monuments.
The team found a lot of stone tool-making remnants, so they suspect there are many others, said Lanell Poseyesva (pronounced Posoo-LEE-sah), an archaeologist with the Hopi Tribe's cultural preservation office in Kykotsmovi and a member of the Parashant survey crew.
The BLM is in charge of the Vermilion Cliffs monument and co-manages the Parashant monument with the National Park Service.
The coalition that hired Bunghart wants to help the BLM get more funding.
Hawks is in charge of drawing up the agency's resource management plan, including an environmental impact statement.
Among other things, the BLM's plan will list recommendations and alternatives on routes to remain open and those to have limited access, Hawks said.
Ozarski said the plan will set the management direction for the monuments, and determine whether the agency will manage them for conservation, for the next 20 years.
"There is nothing like standing in the middle of some ruins and looking out at the scenery that is the exact same scenery that people looked at 800 years ago, and you don't hear the noise of motor bikes and ATVs," she said.
The history of those who either passed through or once lived in these two monuments stretches much farther back than 800 years.
"It's a wide range," said Hawks, an archaeologist by training. "You get campsites and artifacts scatters, all the way up to villages."
The earliest occupation on the Arizona Strip can be traced to the Paleoindian period, at least 12,000 years ago around the end of the last Ice Age, while villages likely date from the ancestral Puebloan, probably between the time of Christ to about 1300 A.D., she said.
Evidence of Southern Paiute Indian presence dates from late in the 19th century.
Poseyesva said finding the remnants of stone tool-making probably dating to about 1100 A.D. was the most significant discovery for her.
The surveying project is important for Hopis, she said, because the findings included petroglyph sites and "tells a lot about the clans that were there."
One petroglyph featured a snake, and the tribe's Snake, Lizard and Sand clans "all have a relationship to each other, and there are Hopi tales and traditions that have those clans migrating through there," Poseyesva said.
"It's real important to protect those areas so that we can have those areas to study and tell future generations where they come from."