“...as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.”
― Howard Carter, Tomb of Tutankhamen
As a youngster, some of my most vivid memories are surrounded by a pinion- and juniper-tree backdrop and the strange abandoned cities on the green table drained by the Mancos River in southwestern Colorado.
Early in those days, the entire mummified remains of “Ester,” and various other ancient pueblo inhabitants, still were displayed openly in cases at the museum on the rim above Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park.
And, of course, I had read books of archeologists and seen "Curse of the Mummy," and other classic portrayals of the romantic view of the study. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" had not yet appeared. When it did in 1981, it pretty much fell into line with my early world view of what those cats do for a living.
But I don't really think I had really encountered a true, honest-to-goodness archeologist yet.
That is, until that early spring day, in the late 1970s, right there at the nail counter of Taylor Hardware. Personified in the rough-and-tumble image of Professor Bill Lipe. I believe he was there to buy a mop bucket.
As things tended to do back then, he happened to catch Merton Taylor's attention. At that very point, conversations between the two progressed along the lines of wonder and awe, and mystery — twisting and turning, winding here and there, and landing at, what perhaps was already was known as DAP, or the Dolores Archeological Project.
I talked with Professor Bill Lipe recently in a telephone conversation, at his office, now professor emeritus of anthropology at Washington State University.
"Merton Taylor would have come in contact with, either as a child or later in the hardware store, these early archeologists in the area. I’m sure he knew Paul Martin and Al Lancaster, and he very likely knew Arthur Rohn and Joe Ben Wheat," Lipe said about some of those early conversations, of which, I was the proverbial "fly on the wall."
"Paul Martin did extensive excavations in the Ackman-Lowry area near Pleasant View in the summers from 1928 to 1938. The best-known part of this work was his excavations of Lowry Ruin, now a BLM visitor site. He also did important work in some of the earlier sites of the Basketmaker III and Pueblo I periods. In the late 1920s, he worked for the Colorado Historical Society, but then moved to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago about 1930, and spent the rest of his career there. At the end of the 1930s, he shifted his area of study to the 'Mogollon' highlands of west-central New Mexico, where for many years he excavated sites that represented ancestral Pueblo traditions, but ones that differed from those of the 'Anasazi' of the Four Corners area. Martin was one of the best-known archaeologists of his era," Lipe said.
"Al Lancaster was a WW I veteran from Oklahoma who homesteaded near Pleasant View in the 1920s. As time permitted, he started identifying archaeological sites for Paul Martin and then started helping with the excavations. He became very skilled at this and Martin gave him increasing responsibility and employed him full-time directing excavation crews. Lancaster was the field foreman for Martin’s work at Lowry Ruin. In the mid-1930s, he was hired by J.O. Brew of Harvard University to be field foreman for some extensive excavations at Alkali Ridge in SE Utah. And later he served as field foreman for other major excavation projects with Brew at Awatovi in NE Arizona and for Emil Haury of the U. of Arizona at Snaketown in southern Arizona. Between these assignments, Lancaster worked for many years at Mesa Verde National Park, where he helped develop better methods for preserving and stabilizing standing masonry walls in the sites there. He also excavated and stabilized some of the mesa-top sites that visitors see on the 'ruins road' loop at the Park.
"In the late 1950s and earl 1960s, Arthur Rohn excavated the Mug House cliff dwelling on Wetherill Mesa in Mesa Verde National Park, as part of a major National Park Service project funded by the National Geographic Society. Following that, Rohn completed a PhD dissertation at Harvard and became a professor at the University of Illinois, moving later to Wichita State University. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he excavated several open (non-cliff-dwelling) sites in Montezuma County, in the general Goodman Point area," said Lipe.
Merton Taylor may also have known Joe Ben Wheat, a University of Colorado Professor who for a number of years in the 1970s and early 1980s excavated several sites in the Yellow Jacket area of Montezuma County (though not the very large site typically referred to as the Yellow Jacket ruin). Wheat directed University of Colorado field schools at these sites, and a number of young archaeologists received their first field experience there.
"Southwestern Colorado has been an important area for archaeological research for many years, and many of the archaeologists and archaeology students who worked in this area may well have ventured into Taylor Hardware during the years when it was in business, Lipe said.
At the time back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lipe and his colleagues roamed area of the project and stayed locally during the summers.
"The Cline house we used as a base for our camp on the Dolores Project, my understanding is that it was a farmhouse, and not part of the McPhee community. We used it for office space and for cooking meals, but the members of the WSU excavation team lived in tents. It was a single story frame house with probably two bedrooms. There was also a functioning well, and that was useful. I don’t think I ever met any of the Clines, so I’m not sure of the name of the Cline family that lived in this house," he said.
"Another house that was left standing and was used to some extent by the Dolores Project was the Periman place. This was a two-story home made of concrete blocks cast to look like stone. There is information about it in the small book “River of Sorrows” that documented some of the historical sites and the history of the reservoir area," he said.
Longtime local musician and history buff Ellis Miller remembers those days.
"I returned to Dolores in June of 1979 after a long absence," Miller said,
"V.T. Boyd was mayor of Dolores, as well as owner of a couple of businesses including the restaurant formerly known as the Italian Cowboy and Shadow Mountain before that. It adjoined the Del Rio Hotel on the east. Prior to the beginning of construction on the dam project he expanded the restaurant to include a saloon, utilizing the vacant lot next door and called the whole enterprise the Sawmill Run. The saloon opened in June of 1979 and I was the first one to play there," he said
"The saloon was reminiscent of an old west saloon with a long bar, sawdust on the floor and a bandstand and dance floor at the far end. Shelled peanuts were served at the bar and on the tables with the expectation that the shells would be thrown on the floor to mingle with the sawdust. V.T. kept lots of cash on hand and would cash the dam worker’s paychecks with the certainty that they would spend a good amount at the establishment and that the dam workers would become a reliable customer base. He was correct on both counts. The Sawmill run did a roaring business with patronage from both the dam workers and locals," according to Miller.
"The Hollywood Bar, the long time local institution was down the street from the Sawmill Run. I called the distance between the two, the hundred foot mile. The Hollywood did a booming business as well. The Sawmill was geared more toward entertainment and the Hollywood was more about shooting pool and solving the problems of the world, and both were about serious drinking. Patrons would usually fit into one of several groups: The home guard – cowboys, loggers and other locals, the Archeologists and the dam workers. People would meander up and down the street as moods dictated and the money flowed freely. While it was not too hard to arrange a fist fight between the various factions (and there were a few), most of the time everyone got along well," he said.
"I was also on the Town Board during the early 1980s. The major federal force through the process was the BLM. A unique aspect of the Dolores Project is that there was to be no private land adjoining the Lake or in the river valley downstream from the dam to the Bradfield Bridge. Therefore imminent domain came to play both in acquiring the land for the lake, the area surrounding it and downstream from the dam. I don’t know the particulars, but there were a couple pieces of property that the BLM was not able to acquire. One was up House Creek, owned by Eldon Zwicker and there was a 20-acre parcel in the river bottom about half way between the dam and the Bradfield Bridge. There were also a couple of properties on the downstream end of Dolores that were actually condemned but somehow got returned to the owners. One was the house on the hill by the sewer plant and the other was the old Porter place. The old Dolores Cemetery was preserved," Miller said.
"The BLM went out of their way to work with the Dolores Town Board. Joe Rowell Park is the result of a joint effort between the Town and the BLM. The BLM filled and graded the area which opened the door for the Town to secure funding from the Department of Local Affairs to put in the irrigation system, grass etc. Corky McClain expressed concern that during low water the area below the bridge would become an unsightly mud flat. The BLM agreed to construct the ponds that are there now with the bypass channel for the river.
"The sewer plant was one of the more challenging issues. No one wanted it where it is but the choices were the current location or to pump the sewage to the top of the hill which would have been cost prohibitive. And so, the lesser of two undesirable possibilities – just like politics," he said.
I asked him if he thought DAP and the Dam project changed the place and how.
"It seems to me the Dam project and the DAP were part of several factors leading a general opening of the area in the 80s and 90s. Dolores and SW Colorado in general were 'discovered.' Recreational property along the Dolores River and near the National Forest and BLM land increased in value as people of means built second homes. There were also the folks who wanted to move from urban areas in California, Texas etc to raise their families in a safer, rural, more family friendly place.
There were some impacts more specifically related to the Dam project, he said, and impacts were multi-pronged.
1. The Forest Service and BLM increased their presence in the area which brought a number of permanent, high paying jobs.
2. Agriculture became easier and more lucrative for farmers who were able to access Dolores Water Conservancy District water and dry farm crops (beans and wheat) were abdicated in favor of irrigated crops – mostly hay.
3. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe was able to utilize water rights granted by treaty leading to a large farming enterprise on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.
4. The outdoor recreation and tourism industries in the area have experienced steady growth since the project albeit not as rapidly as many had hoped.
"In my opinion a more subtle but profound impact of the Dam project and the DAP was the elevation of the awareness of the archeology in the area. The 'Indian ruins' at Mesa Verde were often perceived more as a novelty or a side trip. The archeology that was done pursuant to the Dolores Project along with the building of the Anasazi Heritage Center provided a new dimension to perceptions of the importance of the Four Corners area as a world class archeological destination," Miller says.
I asked him if it altered where we were headed.
"I don't think it altered where we were going as much as accelerated where we were going. Conversations of damming the Dolores River for a major irrigation project began in the late 1800s in the context of the first efforts to provide irrigation water to the Montezuma Valley. The area had been a recreation destination and the Dam enhanced the recreation experience. Agriculture had been a major component in the local economy and the Dam made it possible to farm more effectively and lucratively. The tourist / service industry didn't begin with the Dam project but was enhanced by it. There are other examples. Mining and logging have experienced significant changes that impacted the economics of the area, however, those changes had nothing to do with the Dam," according to Miller.
"The long term effects were not transformative. Instead the changes have been more subtle than perhaps was expected. Big picture, I think most would agree that the economy and quality of life were enhanced by the project in a slow and steady manner,"
A hundred years from now, what will be the legacy of the work that was done?
"That is a tough one, given the complexity of our times, rapidity of technological advancement and that sort of thing. My father once told me that if there was ever a 'shootin' war in this country" it would be over water. Water is often taken for granted, but can also be the source of huge political and economic power. In a worst case scenario, he who controls the water has the power of life and death over what and who resides downstream. The majority of water resting in McPhee Reservoir is owned by downstream entities, municipalities etc in Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico. Water law is complex and hard to interpret. The Colorado River Compact which is the basis for allocation of water in the Colorado River drainage favors upstream states. Since the compact was written, the populations of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix have expanded exponentially as has the demand for water. Therefore the Colorado River Compact is frequently challenged and efforts are usually afoot to rewrite it or do away with it altogether. We can see the conflict over the water intensifying now and it promises to escalate," Miller notes.
"I don't plan to be around in a hundred years but it will be interesting to see if dear old Dad called it correctly, " Miller said.
LouAnn Jacobson, Retired Manager, Anasazi Heritage Center and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, also helped me understand the impacts of the project.
I asked her to describe the significance of that work, and the connection to the DAP in general?
"The DAP was one of the largest, for a long time, the largest (might still be—I’m not sure), archaeological projects in the US. It was one of the first to emphasize careful maintenance of the provenience of excavated materials. As a result, it is extremely valuable for researchers," she said.
"I wasn’t in SW Colorado during the height of the DAP but many of the DAP archaeologists stayed in the area; some becoming well-known, cutting edge archaeologists; others stayed because they loved the area and established themselves in other careers," Jacobson said.
"For a long time the AHC had a massive collection of sports trophies from the many DAP teams that participated in community sports leagues. There were so many archaeologists associated with the DAP that every year there were multiple DAP teams. The trophies took up a lot of valuable space and had no special significance to the AHC mission/scope of collections so we offered them to any DAP person who wanted one. Some folks raised quite a ruckus about this because they thought the trophies were a part of DAP history, but ultimately the trophy collection was culled down to a few representative examples."
"Initially, the Anasazi Heritage Center (AHC) was developed to be the curation facility for the DAP. Local citizens wanted to make sure that the collections stayed in SW Colorado rather than being moved to the University of Colorado, Washington State University, or some other far away location," she said.
"The AHC is a user friendly museum and interpretive center with exhibits and information about the archaeology and history of SW Colorado, the Ancestral Puebloan lifestyle, and relationship between the Ancestral Puebloans and Pueblo people today. The AHC is the primary curation facility for the DAP collections and the AHC continues to make the DAP collection available for research. The AHC library began as a reference library for DAP archaeologists and continues to be a reference source for professional and avocational archeologists, educators, volunteers, and the general public. The complete 19-volume final report from the Dolores Archaeological Program (1978-84) is available, as are numerous technical reports and the original unedited field reports," she said.
Also, Jacobson recommends the following site for information about the collections there:
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument was established in 2000 to protect cultural and natural resources on a landscape scale. More than 6,000 archaeological sites have been recorded in the Monument—which has the highest known density of sites in the United States. The Monument is primarily undeveloped back country and provides an opportunity for visitors to explore this outdoor museum on their own.
One of the noteworthy accomplishments and attributes of the Dolores Project, according to Lipe, was the fact that it was one of the first fully computerized. There is a wealth of precise data as result. The former 'Apple Barn' was once a big spacious building at the figurative center of the project where people writing the reports collected, and artifacts were stored for a time.
I recall the large crates and ladders, and surrounding orchards, peacocks and farm animals from a time before the project. And my mother picking apples for Everette Tibbits. Later, documentation, explanation and presentation of the massive project had a profound impact me personally. I continue down that, winding path, first hinted at in those barely-remembered conversations of long ago.
More to come...
Training of a generation of Archeologists.
Photo information: Clearing and mapping the floor of a large pithouse dating to the AD 800s. Paper tags indicate where artifacts were found on the floor. Photo courtesy of William Lipe.