Putting the Pieces Together

Putting the Pieces Together: Reading the World Through the Comb Ridge Ruins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Reading the World Through the Comb Ridge Ruins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes,, Photographer

Fragments EBLS San Juan Expedition 2021 Courtesy & © Stuart Baggaley, Photographer Fragments
EBLS San Juan Expedition 2021
Courtesy & © Stuart Baggaley, Photographer

Cobs and Adobe Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes,, Photographer Cobs and Adobe
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes,, Photographer

In Linda Sue Park’s novel A Single Shard, young Tree-Ear and his wise mentor Crane-man suggest that “…scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.” My own experiences reading many of Utah’s chapters on plants, animals, and landscapes expanded this year as I explored the Comb Ridge area. I saw my first tadpole in the creek meandering through Arch Canyon and marveled at the corn cobs mixed with handprints in the cliff dwelling adobe walls sprinkled along the red rock. Reading the evidence this land holds of other times and seasons begs me to put pieces together outside in ways I haven’t done before by tracing words on a page.Putting the Pieces Together
My friend Stu Baggaley, a teacher at Edith Bowen Laboratory School, has taken sixth-grade students down the San Juan River every fall for the last five years. On the most recent trip he described to me a serendipitous learning experience as they found themselves on a knoll sprinkled with shards of rock and pottery. “The kids scoured the area,” he said, “picking up as many interesting finds as they could, and we put them on a rock to see the differences. It was amazing to be able to see pottery fragments that were black with white markings, some were striped, some had wavy coil lines, and others were pieces of rock that had been chipped away for tools. We made a collection and took a picture of it.” That photograph speaks volumes to me, but the story gets even better.

Later that evening when they were back at camp, they listened to a podcast from Mesa Verde Voices. “We learned what it means to break pots and why the Ancestral Puebloans did that,” he continued. “One of the reasons was as a farewell ceremony when they were saying goodbye to an area.” Reflecting on their finds on that knoll, they used Lisa Kearsley’s San Juan River field guide to identify what the pottery sherds were. “It was a transformative experience to be able to notice that there were hundreds of years between different pottery sherds, and this could have been a place for many different people to break their pottery and say goodbye and move on. We realized we were walking in the same place as people did a long time ago.”

Saying goodbye and moving on. Many speculate about the why, when, and how these people left as well as the significance of the breaking pot ritual I had never read in my Utah history textbooks. Perhaps, as Tree-Ear decides, “there are some things that could not be molded into words.” How many sherds and shards and clues have I missed? Reading the world is a miraculous skill for learners of all ages who encounter not only words but the wonder of putting together the pieces we find all around if we just look.Putting the Pieces Together

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I am Wild About Utah.


Images: EBLS San Juan River Expedition 2021 Fragments Courtesy & Copyright © Stuart Baggaley, Photographer.
Images: Cob Ridge Ruins & Cob and Adobe, Courtesy & Copyright © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer.
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Courtesy Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Canyon Country Discovery Center. https://www.ccdiscovery.org/

Edith Bowen Laboratory School San Juan River trip. https://edithbowen.usu.edu/students-parents/4corners

Hueston, J. What Pottery Can Teach Us About Ancient Pueblo Cultures. Real Archaeology: ARCH 100 Searches for the Truth. Vassar College. 2017. https://pages.vassar.edu/realarchaeology/2017/09/17/what-pottery-can-teach-us-about-ancient-pueblo-cultures/

Kearsley, Lisa. San Juan River Guide: Montezuma Creek to Clay Hills Crossing. Shiva Press. 2017 (third edition). http://shivapress.com

McPherson, Robert S. A History of San Juan County: In the Palm of Time. 1995. Utah Centennial County History, Utah State Historical Society. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/sanjuancountyhistory

Mesa Verde Voices. https://www.mesaverdevoices.org/ and https://www.nps.gov/meve/learn/news/17-20_mesaverdevoices.htm

Park, Linda Sue. A Single Shard. 2001. Clarion Books. https://lindasuepark.com/books/books-novels/single-shard/

Toll, J. Wolcott. Making and Breaking Pottery in the Chaco World. American Antiquity, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 56-78. Cambridge University Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2694318?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Rock Art

Rock Art: Fremont Petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon, UT: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Fremont Petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon, UT: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
What did we do before radio—before cell phones, television, newspapers, and books? How did we tell stories, share news, warn of danger, or otherwise communicate with anyone beyond those around us? What did we do with words and thoughts when there was no one with whom we could immediately share them? The wilds of southern Utah can provide one answer—if you’re willing to look.

Rock Art: The Great Gallery Pictograph Panel in Horseshoe Canyon, UT; Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
The Great Gallery Pictograph Panel in Horseshoe Canyon, UT; Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
As far as pictograph panels go, Horseshoe Canyon’s Great Gallery isn’t terribly difficult to find. It’s also one of the most spectacular and well preserved panels of rock art in the state. Naturally, then, it’s fairly well-known and has seen an increasing number of visitors in recent years despite its remote location. Incidentally, I happened upon it by accident—had no idea it was there and would have passed right by if not for a chance glimpse of a ghostly set of eyes peering at me through cottonwood boughs. The Great Gallery’s ‘Barrier Canyon’ style of rock art is characterized by haunting silhouettes of human, semi-human, and animal figures painted on and pecked into the canyon walls of the Colorado Plateau. They are surviving remnants of an unnamed and unknown culture of hunter/gatherers that roamed Utah’s canyon country between 7,000 and 1,500 years ago—pieces of information whose meaning is lost to us now. We may never know why these people painted the “Holy Ghost”—the 8-foot-tall figure with empty, gaping eyes that startled me out of my hiking stupor.

Newer panels of rock art produced by more familiar cultures are a bit more discernible, though. The nameless wanderers who produced the Barrier Canyon style were followed first by the Fremont whose artwork appeared around 1,500 and 2,000 years ago and then by the Pueblo peoples we now refer to as the Anasazi. Both the Fremont and Pueblo styles portray relatively clearer themes—stories of hunting parties and the game to which they gave chase; spirals and directional glyphs which indicate water; people, animals, and the elements whose interactions are now carved into the canyon walls for us to find, decipher, and celebrate.

The author, adventurer, and local rock art expert Jonathan Bailey refers to rock art as “a vision of a…cultural landscape”—a story continuously told by people who lived close to the land long after they’ve passed. Some stories are secret, hidden away in forgotten crevices of the Colorado Plateau, meant only for those who already knew their meaning. Others are more democratic: a water glyph is meant for me as much as the hunter/gatherer that pecked it into the sandstone. It beckons every traveler to come and sate his or her thirst.
Einstein said time is relative. Looking up at the Holy Ghost, the artistic center of the Great Gallery, I felt I could reach through time and connect with the people who wandered this landscape before me—to see it and experience it the way they did.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Mozdy, Michael, Bold Figures, Blurred History: The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, Natural History Museum of Utah, October 2, 2016, https://nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/09/29/bold-figures-blurred-history-great-gallery-horseshoe-canyon

Nine Mile Canyon, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/places/nine-mile-canyon

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur: Visitors can see over 1,500 dinosaur fossils exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Dinosaur National Monument. Image courtesy NPS, Dinosaur National Monument
Visitors can see over 1,500 dinosaur fossils exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Dinosaur National Monument.
Image courtesy NPS, Dinosaur National Monument
My last WAU described the glories of the Colorado Plateau, to which I must return. The very northern reach of the plateau intersects the mighty Uintah Mountains and the Uintah Basin. This magnificent landscape also intersects with a complexity of cultures including Utah Natives, Utah State University, hard core birders, naturalists, paleontologists, mineral extraction, outlaws, and prospectors. This very “out of the way” part of the plateau (meaning well away from an interstate highway and large urban areas) offers scenery and rugged wildlands equal to Southern Utah with far lower numbers of tourists.

Douglass Quarry
Dinosaur National Monument
Courtesy National Parks Service
When my USU students and I first met the enclosed cliff covered with an array of dinosaur debris, our senses were overwhelmed with what stood before us. This incredible display has caught on internationally. Everything remains imbedded in the rock where these giant beasts drew their final breath. Parts of eleven different species are scattered about as you gaze upon this marvel.

A eye popping drive to the Echo Park overlook, view 300 square miles of sublime deeply cut canyons by the Green and Yampa rivers rivaling the grandeur of Canyonlands National Park. Gaze down on the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers, and far above the Gates of Lodore where Powell’s “Voyage of Discovery” met their first gnarly rapids that laid waste to boats and supplies.

“Advancing and prancing and glancing and dancing, Recoiling, turmoiling, and toiling, and boiling” quoted by a crew member from a poem by Robert Southy.

The Green River enters Dinosaur at the monument’s northern boundary and flows out of the monument 58.5 miles later, just south of Split Mountain. 47 miles upstream from Dinosaur’s boundary, Flaming Gorge Dam has regulated the Green since November 1962. The impoundment has severely altered the river’s natural regime below the dam. Before Flaming Gorge Dam, the Green River was often clouded by dirt, silt, and other sediments; was subject to high spring flows fed by snow melt; and the water temperature could range from near freezing in winter to almost 70°F in summer.
With the opening of the dam, these conditions largely disappeared. Spring flows, temperature fluctuation, and turbidity (the cloudiness of the water) were all reduced. The Green River downstream from the dam became a much clearer, cooler, and calmer river which added four species of fish to the endangered species list.

The Yampa is the only remaining free-flowing tributary in the Colorado River system. It harbors outstanding examples of remnant native cottonwood willow and box elder riparian communities, and it provides critical habitat for these endangered fish.

Prior to November 1962, the Yampa and Green rivers were very similar in their discharge, water chemistry, sediment load, and fish communities. Pre-dam similarity between the Yampa and the upper Green creates offer an unparalleled opportunity for comparison studies that help guide restoration efforts in riparian systems far beyond the monument’s boundaries.

Include Josie Basset Morris’s historic cabin in your itinerary. Josie was a female maverick who set up shop in the eastern Utah wilds. Josie brewed illegal chokecherry wine during the 1920’s and 30s prohibition era. Excellent birding exists in the large cottonwood trees surrounding the cabin and Cub Creek riparian area. From The Hog Canyon trail begins here which leads to a box canyon for more of nature’s delights.

Jack Greene- I’m totally Wild About Utah


Pictures: Courtesy US National Park Service, Dinosaur National Monument
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Earl Douglass and Dinosaur National Monument, Wild About Utah, Oct 2, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/earl-douglass-and-dinosaur-national-monument/

Strand, Holly, Paleontological Paradise, Wild About Utah, Sep 23, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/paleontological-paradise/

Utah’s Stunning Landscapes and America’s Celebration

National Park Service - Find Your Park
Find Your Park
Courtesy US NPS
Utah is arguably blessed with the most stunning landscapes on the planet. Many have been preserved for posterity in our National Parks & Monuments. This is the BIG YEAR- the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service! I’ve sampled and worked in many of them- from Alaska to Florida, from S. California to New England. As many would suggest- our National Parks are one of America’s greatest achievements which has gone global, now found on all continents except Antarctica (or am I missing one!).

Much of my work in the Parks has been assisting with the launch of the “Climate Friendly Parks” program which began in 2006. The program provides parks with the tools and resources to address climate change and ensure the most sustainable operations across the agency.

National parks, because of their location and unique, protected resources, are places where the effects of climate change are particularly noticeable. With the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916, responsibility was given to the Service to preserve and protect the significant resources within parks for the enjoyment of current and future generations. Today, as knowledge about climate change and its effects increase and potential impacts are better understood, the need to practice good stewardship and develop forward thinking resource management plans is more relevant than ever.

I began in Zion N.P. then moved on to several others including Mt. Rainier, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, and Denali in Alaska. Zion N.P. will always be at or near the top for its amazing landforms, shear grandeur, hidden canyons, and rich diversity of life- the highest in Utah.
It was here that I first met the ringtail cat and Mexican Spotted Owl- two illusive, iconic critters. Both appeared in broad daylight in Hidden Canyon on the west face of the Great White Throne. There is no season less than spectacular here. Perhaps the most dramatic accompanies the seasonal monster thunder storms amplified by massive sandstone cliffs which begin spouting 2000 foot blood red waterfalls. It’s all too surreal, too ethereal for one’s senses to fully grasp.
And yet another proposed stunning Utah landscape containing thousands of ancient ruins is receiving wide citizen support including many native tribes, that being the Bears Ears NationalMonument.

Find Your Park
Find Your Park
Courtesy US NPS
This area of South Eastern Utah offers a unique opportunity to include the “real Americans”, the people that have over 10,000 years of Utah history, who continue to honor and worship this ancient landscape of their ancestors. These tribes have been invited to participate in its planning and management to assure their rituals and subsistence ways may continue, and that its pristine nature would be preserved in perpetuity.

Designation of the Bears Ears NM would be a marvelous celebratory note for this epic year to honor America’s grandest idea!

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.

Image: Courtesy National Park Service for Find Your Park
Courtesy BearsEarsCoalition.org for the map of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society & USU Office of Sustainability

Additional Reading:

Utah National Parks, Google Search, Utah’s National Parks

Bears Ears National Monument, Google Search, Bears Ears National Monument

Secretaries Jewell, Vilsack Applaud President’s Designation of New National Monuments in Utah and Nevada, Dec 28, 2016, https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretaries-jewell-vilsack-applaud-presidents-designation-new-national-monuments-utah

Statement by the President on the Designation of Bears Ears National Monument and Gold Butte National Monument, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Dec 28, 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/28/statement-president-designation-bears-ears-national-monument-and-gold

FACT SHEET: President Obama to Designate New National Monuments Protecting Significant Natural and Cultural Resources in Utah and Nevada, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Dec 28, 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/28/fact-sheet-president-obama-designate-new-national-monuments-protecting

Gayle, Riana, Planning For The Future, A Bioregional Approach, UPR Utah Public Radio, Nov 19, 2018, https://www.upr.org/post/planning-future-bioregional-approach