A Wilderness Science and Art Collaboration

Aldo & Leonardo, a partnership between Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The project is inspired by the scientific wisdom of Aldo Leopold and the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Our endeavor is an interdisciplinary collaboration of artists and scientists designed to celebrate the lands, resources and opportunities protected by the Wilderness Act. In 2013, we are hosting one-month residencies in six diverse wilderness areas. Artists will work alongside wildland research scientists and gain firsthand knowledge of the wonders, complexities and challenges of our nation's wildest places. The result will be a body of work that creatively illustrates the value of wild areas and honors the scientific efforts to preserve wilderness for the next fifty years.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

First few days at Canyons of the Ancients

By Leslie Sobel

It’s hard to know where to start.  After months of preparation and a long trip we are here at last - and have been here for a few days.  “Here” being the intern house next door to the Anasazi Heritage Center. Yesterday was our first real day here and it started with a bang.  Since it was Labor Day it looked as if we weren’t going to have any organized activities so the three of us - Esther, Ben and I -  had decided to go explore Mesa Verde on our own when a knock came at the door.  Kristen, one of the archeologists at  Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (hereafter CANM) wanted to know if we’d like to join her on her appointed rounds checking various front sites in the monument.  Thus began an 8 hour day of back roads, fascinating archeological sites, some hiking and the imparting of an enormous amount of detailed information on the people who lived here 1000 years ago and what they left behind.

Interior view, Lowry Pueblo
Kristen is a fabulous tour guide.  She took us to Lowry Pueblo (well restored and easy to navigate), Painted Hand - less restored but with amazing rock art and nice climbs, both ends of the Sand Canyon trail - lower with Castle Rock, upper with Sand Canyon Pueblo.  
Interior, tower at Painted Hand
Castle Rock
All of these places are a long way apart on roads that vary from fine to rough enough that I’m leery of taking my high clearance AWD drive vehicle.
panoramic view, upper Sand Canyon

We returned to the house after our tour to an evening with staff from CANM, Colorado Art Ranch people, local artists and the two interns who are also staying here - a very interesting crew indeed. An interesting discussion of the nature of wilderness started - a conversation I expect will be continued throughout this month as we explore a wilderness landscape previously inhabited by 60,000 people (according to one guess) - and far fewer than that today.

This morning we toured the storage area of the museum where more than a million artifacts, maps, pottery ranging from in perfect shape to sherds, stone tools, textiles, maps and other archives repose.  We had a pretty in depth tour thanks to Liz - one of the curators.  Fascinating and very moving to see so many beautifully, skillfully made objects from so long ago.  It is interesting to contemplate how these long ago people lived in this very dramatic landscape.  Esther commented that she was impressed with how much time they clearly spent making objects of beauty not just subsisting and I think that’s a telling remark - they had time and resources to focus on making things that were not merely functional but were very beautiful and tied to the place they lived.  Their architecture was both elegant and often highly defensive, their ceramic work was stunning and their stone tools remarkable.

So that was functionally day 2
Today was day 3.  On the agenda - joining a pair of biologists and two other local experts to do a snake and lizard survey.  What does that mean?  We drove to a remote wash, hiked in past a solar array powering a set of sensors in the stream which captured data on fish which had been released with chips to monitor their population movement.  Noticing bear tracks all around and on top of the sensor array - hmmn. 
Fish monitoring array
 Ford the stream - yes, that means wade it. Some of us opted for bare feet and sharp rocks, others chose wet boots.  (I’m of the bare feet school).  
Stream, Bridge Canyon

Then we spread out in a loose line across the wash and hiked up, stopping to document any lizard or snake encountered.  This is important work because part of the Monument’s mission is to provide habitat, especially for certain rare or endangered animals.  Data on what animals live where is important to determine what kind of resources should be allocated and what kind of protections are needed for various Federal lands. Most of what we saw were pretty common but a few were rare and those merited special attention - capturing GPS coordinates for where they were found.  Now this may sound dull but it was a pretty (and somewhat rugged) desert environment, hiking UP the wash and it was over 90 degrees.  Because pretty much everything in the desert bites, scratches or stings one wears long pants and ideally boots, a hat and loads of sunblock.  We’re all carrying packs with water.  Every so often someone would find something interesting - most notably a small rattlesnake who was peacefully sleeping until we all showed up to ooh and ah before it got annoyed and left.  
Montezuma Rattler - maybe 18" long
After a few hours of this we were all grateful for some shade and a break.  Then we hiked back down the wash and parted ways with Eric and Chris, our trusty biologists.  They do surveys like this often to monitor various populations including bats (with sophisticated echolocation software), raptors including peregrine falcons, bald and golden eagles as well as the aforementioned lizards and snakes.
lizard less than pleased at being inventoried

On for some more wanderings around other parts of the Monument, a brief foray into Utah and part of Hovenweep National Monument, a trip back to CANM where we hiked for a bit in wilderness along a lovely double line of cottonwoods and then back home with a stop for most welcome ice cream.  Victoria drove us all over the place - and these roads ranged from decent paved roads to neither decent nor paved - for something like 10 hours today. So all told an interesting day - which started very early - we were out the door at 7am and will do the same tomorrow with some of the same very engaging and knowledgable guides.

I would be remiss to not note how incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and help the staff here at CANM has been.  All three of us are dazzled by their willingness to answer unending questions and spend many hours showing us all around their world.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, everyone is taking a lot of extra time to make friends with us, explain what they do, include us in their work, and not laugh at our questions!