(August 1, 2023)—The Great Bend of the Gila marks an important and unique segment of the river corridor that bridges the ancestral homelands of the O’odham and Piipaash. Movement was an essential dimension to ancestral lifeways along this river, yet the archaeology and history of Indigenous trails remain largely underappreciated in contemporary understandings of this landscape.
In recent years, Archaeology Southwest has been working with the O’odham tribes to chart these subtle yet vital heritage assets, raise awareness of their significance and value to descendant communities, and help land managers develop policies and practices that ensure their continued survival through changing social and environmental contexts. This project builds on that success.
Archaeology Southwest is committed to respecting and preserving Indigenous heritage sites and landscapes across southern Arizona. Promoting National Conservation Lands is one way we do this vital work. The Great Bend of the Gila is uniquely suited in this regard, as it is one of the few places where three or more National Conservation Lands units merge—the Sonoran Desert National Monument, Juan Bautista de Anza, and Butterfield Overland National Historic Trails, and hopefully a future Great Bend of the Gila National Monument.
Beginning in October 2023, Archaeology Southwest will initiate the next phase of this project within the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
This time around, however, our goal is to assess the relationship between Indigenous trails and the Euroamerican travel routes commemorated by the Juan Bautista de Anza and Butterfield Overland National Historic Trails. Historical accounts indicate these traveling parties of the 1700s and 1800s were either led by O’odham guides over Indigenous trails or followed such trails through the “40 Mile Desert” across the Great Bend of the Gila. We plan to find out.
We are looking for volunteers to assist in surveying these trails.
This upcoming volunteer project will begin in early October and run through the winter of 2023–2024. There will be 13 sessions of 3 field days every other week. You can choose the dates that work best for you; however, we ask that you commit to at least 4 days (consecutive or intermittent) throughout the project. Field days are scheduled from Sunday to Tuesday, allowing some weekend and weekday options to fit everyone’s schedule.
The ideal field crew size for this project is 7, including the field leader, so we invite up to 6 volunteers daily. To ensure a personalized yet successful experience, we ask for at most 6 volunteers daily.
We value your commitment and dedication. We kindly request that volunteers to join us for a minimum of 4 full days over the length of the project. We understand that life can be unpredictable, so we offer flexibility in choosing which days to participate. We appreciate your involvement whether you opt for an entire 4-day session or choose 4 or more sporadic days from the project.
The project is set in the Sonoran Desert National Monument—just an hour and a half away from Tucson and only an hour from Phoenix. Immerse yourself in the beauty of this national monument, with its sprawling desert vistas, diverse flora and fauna, and rich historical significance. Escape the city and reconnect with nature as you contribute to preserving these historic trails.
Project Director: Aaron Wright, PhD
Volunteers should be prepared to walk on uneven terrain for up to 10 miles daily for 10 hours a day, carrying food and water. If you have a reliable means of transportation, preferably with 4-wheel drive and somewhat high clearance, we encourage you to go to the project site. Alternatively, carpooling with other volunteers is a great option. If you plan to stay for 4 full days of a session, please bring your camping gear, food, and water for a night or two of car camping.
No need for prior experience—we’ll provide comprehensive training to ensure you feel confident and equipped for the tasks ahead. If you have experience with surveying, that’s a bonus, but it’s not a requirement. Your willingness to learn, contribute, and be consistent matters most.
Here’s a glimpse of what your volunteer day with us will look like:
Arrive on Sunday:
As a volunteer, you’ll promptly join our dedicated team at the Sonoran Desert National Monument at 8:00 a.m. We’ll begin work following brief introductions. Prepare for an exciting 10-hour day where you’ll help to survey these historic trails. For those volunteering for more than one day, you can commute or choose to camp with the field director and other volunteers. We will set up camp at the end of the first day. (We encourage you to camp, because that builds relationships among crew members and is an important part of the experience.)
We will begin promptly at 7:00 a.m. to kickstart another day of impactful work—plan to survey for approximately 10 hours. As the day concludes, we’ll once again camp overnight.
We’ll commence at 7:00 a.m. once again. We’ll dedicate around 8 hours to the survey, wrapping up the session around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. to get you home in time for dinner.
Join us for this well-structured session, where each day brings new experiences, teamwork, and a deeper connection to the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
Click on this link to sign-up. Fill out the required personal information, and don’t forget to click that you are interested in being a volunteer for the “Desert Trails Survey.” We will contact you soon to discuss the project and your availability.