Shade, Cultures, and Foxes

Carl Evertsbusch, Archaeology Southwest member and volunteer

(February 17, 2017)—Gripping a pole lashed to one end of an 8×10 piece of dark plastic, I drift off into scenes of kneeling in dirt making earthshaking archaeological discoveries. With no warning a breeze hits our homemade contraption and threatens to launch my shade mate Jaye Smith (read Jaye’s post) and I into the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site parking lot. We steady ourselves and continue to shade fellow volunteers Fran Maiuri (read Fran’s post) and Kirk Astroth as they photograph multiple images of the nearly 600 rock art boulders of Painted Rock.

Improvised Shade at Painted Rocks

Our improvised shade set-up. That’s me at right, guarding against a surprise attack from the campground’s resident kit foxes. Image: Lance Trask.

We’re part of a team helping Aaron Wright record the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site located in the lower Gila River. The images Fran and Kirk produce will allow Aaron and Doug Gann to create 3D models of the boulders that will insert fresh documentation into the archaeology record. In past weeks our team used the Rock Art Stability Index to assess the condition of each boulder. Hopefully, these data will assist the BLM’s efforts to protect this valuable public resource. Equally important, Aaron’s work will support Archaeology Southwest’s drive to confer Monument status onto the Great Bend of the Gila and will add to a fuller understanding of this remarkable cultural landscape.

The work can be demanding, as the rocks heat up and the winds come and go. We need to be careful to assure our recordings are useful. But it’s not a one-way street. As we help, we learn about the intersection of ancient and historic peoples who traveled and lived along this well-used byway that meanders though the Lower Gila. We learn how tribal perspectives are essential to the full understanding of the cultural landscape. We learn modern techniques for preserving the record and for analyzing and interpreting what may have been going on out here for thousands of years. We share our ideas on how to do the tasks and some stick.

As our team works away, our bright orange vests and banter entertain park visitors. They shoot us questions from the trail: “What are you doing?” “What do they mean?” “Who did these?” and our favorite, “Where are the alien ones?” We give our best answers, and Aaron, if he is nearby, fills in the gaps. We’re having fun.

Am I getting more than I’m giving? You decide. I’m throwing full days at Archaeology Southwest, but I’m hanging in a gorgeous setting, learning incredible history figuratively at my feet. I’m meeting and working with great people: we share meals, swap stories, marvel at the sunrises and sunsets, sleep beneath full moons, and receive daily briefings of the resident kit fox family’s nightly visit to Aaron’s 5-star accommodations. Can’t beat it.

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