Copper & Logging Grand Canyon VOL - Passport in Time

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Historic Copper Mines and Logging Railroads Documentation near the Grand Canyon: From a New PIT Volunteer’s Perspective

Kaibab National Forest, Arizona, 2004
by Virginia Young, PIT Volunteer

I found out about PIT when a friend suggested that I check out one evening last December. I emailed my application to the PIT Clearinghouse that night. While I was still in the hospital for major surgery, I received an email that I had been accepted on the Kaibab NF’s project at the historic Anita mining camp. I decided to accept the challenge on the faith that I would have recovered at the end of 10 weeks. 

My travel companion and I left Brooksville, Florida, on April 26 and enjoyed the long drive to Arizona. We arrived at camp in the afternoon of May 2 in time to meet some of our fellow volunteers and staff before dinner. The group camping unit is set under many magnificent ponderosa pine trees that are more than 100 years old. A picnic shelter in the center of the campground area is built of finished ponderosa pine beams. The comforts of home included vault toilets and running water delivered to a single spigot. The staff brought several solar shower packs with them. I had never seen a solar shower. It is a large bag made of heavy black plastic with a hose and small shower head attached to the bottom. It is filled with cold water in the morning and laid, black side up, on a flat surface that will be in the sun all day. When we came back from a day’s work, we took the bag back into the woods, hung it on a tree branch, hung our clothes and towels on other branches to make a little private space, and opened the spigot. It was a great hot shower. One bag usually lasted for about 3 showers if we were careful.

Monday morning (and every other morning) we were up early. That was the hard part. The temperature hovered a little above 34 degrees most nights, and it was difficult to get out of that warm sleeping bag. Hearing others already talking and laughing around the coffee pot made it easier to venture out. After a very big and nutritious breakfast, we each packed our own lunch and straightened up the campsite. The ravens and squirrels watched diligently for any error we might make. We left the camp every morning at about 8:30.

I was on the team to gather information at the Anita Copper Mine site with Neil Weintraub, the lead FS archaeologist. Our first stop was at the old spur of railroad track that leads to the mine. We looked up to see the Grand Canyon Train go by on one of its twice-daily runs to take tourists and supplies to the town of Grand Canyon from Williams, Arizona. We drove over dirt roads in a FS 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The land was parched and cracked. We stopped under some very short evergreen trees that Neil told us were probably a century old. They were gnarled and scarred and defiant; they stood their ground in that harsh climate.

Our job was to search for anything with writing or printing on it and mark where we found it with a pin flag. The project leaders would then enter its GPS location, which ultimately became a numbered dot on a map, giving us a graphic depiction of the location of artifacts throughout the area. Most of the artifacts we found were fragments of bottle bases, dish bottoms, and can covers. We identified 5 different types of baking powder cans, mentholatum jars, patent medicine bottles, several kinds of ceramics, and oil cans.

As we found fragments of people’s lives left in the artifacts they discarded, I tried to imagine how people had lived there during the known periods of mining activity in 1900–1905 and 1930–1932. Thinking about my family, if they had chosen to go there in the 1930s, it would have been by train. They would have taken an old army tent and lived in it until they decided whether it was worth their while to build a more substantial home. After they were gone, nothing would have been left behind except broken ceramics and empty cans. For washing clothes and bathing, they would have used a galvanized tub like the one we found. Where they would have gotten water to fill the tub is a mystery to me. There are washes where rainwater runs off rather than soaking in, creating ditches in the parched soil as it rushes on. They could have dammed those, and the dam would have since washed away.

While in the area, we visited several rock art sites that must be monitored regularly. Neil showed us how to identify prehistoric pottery sherds and the stone used to make arrowheads and other tools. Other teams surveyed and mapped the logging railroad and identified and recorded an ancient sweat lodge and trading post.

One evening, our whole group went to Shoshoni Point to see the sunset and the full moon rise over the Grand Canyon. Teams shared information in the evening around the fire, including slide shows on laptops of the day’s adventures. What fun to have these tools. I recorded interviews with as many of the staff and volunteers as possible and am intrigued by their wealth of knowledge and experience. I am indeed privileged to have been part of this project.

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