Pine Creek Canyon - Passport in Time

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Pine Creek Canyon Inventory PIT Project July 19-23, 2010 (R2010041702029)

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada, 2010
By Mark Bodily, Archaeologist
Four USFS personnel (Mark Bodily, Alyce Branigan, Tod Hildebrandt, and Luke Trout) and three PIT volunteers (Scott DeWeese, Brandi Hensz, and Kevin Jackson) participated in the project. My sister-in-law, Leslie, started the project with us but had to turn back because of altitude sickness.

On Monday the 19th, we met at the Tonopah Ranger Station at 8am to have our project orientation, safety meeting, and gear/equipment check. I stressed the importance of packing light. Out of all the packs that I checked, Scott's was the heaviest. We carpooled out to the Pine Creek Campground and trailhead and began our hike from an elevation of 7,600 feet. We hiked about 3.5 miles up Pine Creek, climbing roughly 1,800 feet, and camped in an aspen grove at an elevation of 9,400 feet. It was quite warm at the beginning of the hike, so we welcomed the shaded trail paralleling and crossing Pine Creek all the way to the top of the project area. The creek was roaring and provided ample cool water for drinking, washing, and cooling tired feet. Various wildflowers such as purple lupine, red columbine, orange/red Indian paintbrush, yellow arrowleaf/balsam root, and pink, wild roses flaunted their colors and scents along the trail for the entire trip. Rustling leaves of the aspen and the gurgling murmurs of the stream were our constant companions and lulled us to sleep each night. Truly this area was an island paradise amid the arid sagebrush valleys of central Nevada.

About two miles into our hike up the trail on the first day, Leslie got altitude sickness in the worst way. Luke and I tried to help her by running a pole through her pack and carrying it for her - however, this did not solve the altitude sickness problem. After some deliberation, I decided to send the crew on to the base camp, stash my pack, shoulder her pack, and take her back down the mountain. I dropped her off in Tonopah around 7:30 pm and decided to sleep in my own bed that night and get a real early start the next morning. I was up by 5am and on the trail again. That trail is sure easier to hike without a pack and I made good time - that is until I made contact with my stashed pack again. With the added weight, I went much slower and made it to our base camp by noon. I met up with Scott, Alyce, and Luke who were busy recording Basque arborglyphs in the vicinity of camp. It was great to hear that everyone had made it to base camp and were all ok. After ditching my pack once again, I made good time hiking up the trail to rendezvous with Tod, Brandi and Kevin. I met them at the sawmill site and helped them to continue recording that area for the rest of the day. We did systematic survey in the aspen grove where the Basque sheepherder camp was located. The red ants were noticeably bad and would not leave us alone. For some reason, they liked to bite Brandi most of all.

The evenings were spent around the campfire socializing. I was pleased with how friendly everybody was and how well we all got along. Kevin shared funny stories and jokes, Scott shared his wisdom and snacks, and Brandi was fun. Alyce always had a story to share, Luke packed up a grocery store, Tod laughed, and I listened. Most everybody cooked on a camp stove, but I boiled water on the coals to hydrate my freeze dried meals. When I didn't have hot water, I just ate it cold. Luke amazed us by producing fresh fruit, potatoes, and canned food. He ate a cucumber that first night. I guess that he missed my memo about packing lightweight. Brandi seemed to hit the sack first - understandably so since she was still on New Jersey Standard Time. Scott always was the next to retire soon to be followed by Kevin. It never took me long to join them by crawling into my comfy sleeping bag. The gurgling stream and rustling leaves soon merged with my dreams.

The next day was spent recording more arborglyphs, historic roads, stone foundations, and the saw mill site. I found a barely discernable ditch at the sawmill, which we then trailed to the stream. Other crew members (Nick Freeland, Roy Garrison, and Travis Hansen) met us at the sawmill just after noon. The rest of the group continued up to Dakabah, but I stayed behind to give Nick, Roy, and Travis a tour of the sawmill and Basque camp sites. Travis saw a mountain lion on his way up the trail that morning. He only caught a brief glimpse of its face and then its tail as it ran away. That is a rare sight and experience. I saw a mountain lion once - but I only saw its glowing eyes in the dark. We met up with the rest of the group at Dakabah - a high altitude village site at the edge of a small glacial tarn lake. We discovered this site in 2008, and one of our goals on this trip was to finish recording it. We started out by attempting to relocate each of the stone circles; a task that turned out to be a little more difficult than it should have been.

Only half of the group felt energetic enough to go on the field trip up to Alta Toquima Village. I almost envied those that were going to be returning to base camp because I knew what a grueling next couple of hours that I was in for. Tod, Luke, Travis, Nick, Brandi, and I left Dakabah around 4:30pm and climbed up the talus slope from 10,800 to 11,400 feet. We even passed a rather large snow patch and I couldn't resist throwing a few snow balls. At the top of the ridge, the wind was blowing pretty hard, but it was the view that took my breath away. Whether looking to the east or west, it was jagged mountain range after mountain range fading away into pastel colors of blue and purple. We looked at some hunting blinds there, and then began our three mile hike along the ridge to and from Alta Toquima Village. We passed a skeleton of a bighorn mountain sheep and several more archaeological sites. A small stream and grassy meadow in the vicinity of the village offered a comfy resting spot. I got some cool pictures of the group resting on this meadow. It was a thought inspiring rest and vista. At the village, I showed the group some of the excavated houses and we discussed and contemplated the mysteries of why these ancient peoples would build their houses so high up and at this particular location. We came up with some good ideas, but how will we ever know which one was right? Since we enjoyed our first break so much at the spring with the grassy meadow, we settled down there for dinner. If we hadn't told the rest of the crew that we would be back to base camp that night, then I would have been tempted to bed down in that location for the night. Luke wandered off on his own and saw a herd of bighorn sheep. He got some cool photos, though all we got to see were the distant white specks of them running off in the distance.

We watched the sun set below the mountains from the top of the ridge and saw the colors transition into the darker shades of dusk. At that point, we started losing light fast and tried to hike down the talus slope to Dakabah before we lost it completely. We were almost successful. I went without a flashlight in the lead, but most of the group turned their headlamps on as we hiked back down the trail to base camp. Without light and in the lead of the group, I could only barely make out the dim line of the trail ahead of me and often had to take a step into the dark trusting that the trail was still there. At one point, I stepped behind a boulder and let several people pass me before jumping out and scaring Tod. He screamed (like I would have) and I chuckled about that for the rest of the night. I had to swear that I wasn't going to do anymore scaring before I could get the group to continue following me. We made it back to base camp around 9:30 that night without any twisted ankles. Roy slept out under the stars and Luke cooked a tinfoil dinner.

On Thursday, we hiked back up to Dakabah to finish recording the site. Nick, Roy, and Travis had to hike back out as their work week had ended. At Dakabah, we finally relocated each of the features, mapped them, and then described the site in better detail. During our lunch break, Tod and Luke went swimming in the small lake. It was only waist deep with several inches of muck at the bottom. Walking in it swirled up greenish blue clouds of mud, but they tell me that it was very refreshing. We bounced around some ideas on where to relocate the user made trail and campsite off of the site. There were raspberry bushes growing in the rocks, but we were there at the wrong time of the year to enjoy the fruit - they were still in bloom. The bees enjoyed them though. That night, we stayed up later than usual and watched Luke heat up a several cans of soup and beans.

The plan for our last day in the wilderness was to hike down to Pine Creek Campground and stay the night there. We planned on recording the last of the prehistoric and arborglyph sites on our way down - but plans change. We had only made it to our first prehistoric site when I got the longing for my own bed again. I noticed a similar desire in some of the others too. As Kevin accurately described us, we acted like a couple of old barn horses. I'll admit that we were all eager to get back home a day early. So, we decided to leave Tod, Alyce, and Luke behind to finish recording the last of the sites while I hiked the rest of the group down to the campground for a flintknapping demonstration. When we got there, we were almost run over by two young boys on a motorcycle. Our activities had attracted their attention and they just had to watch the flintknapping demonstration and even joined in at breaking rocks. They left the proud owners of a fine obsidian flake. Kevin, Brandi, and Scott each tried their hand at the art as well. Alyce and Tod met up with us at the campground with the news that Alyce had lost one of the crew cameras. She felt awful, but I assured her that we would find it. I made her suffer through the entire weekend before telling her that Luke found and recovered it the very next day. Luke stayed behind an extra day to finish up the site recording.

We left the well sheltered and watered canyon to drive back through the arid desert valleys. We looked back and saw where we had been on the mountain 4,000 feet higher. Back in Tonopah, it didn't take us very long to put our gear away into our own rigs and go our separate ways. We had been through one grueling week, but we accomplished a ton, and we enjoyed every minute of it - well almost every minute of it.
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