Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Game Runs, Signal Fires & Sight Lines

In 1978, on our 12-day Mountain Orientation course at Colorado Mountain College, our professor (Jim Campbell) showed us some low stone walls on a ridgeline, similar to these pictured. He explained how these were remnants of a "Game Drive", which ancient people used to guide Elk to "ambush pits" as part of seasonal meat gathering. The one shown here is right on the CDT, south of Monarch Pass, at about 12,000'- that's 12,856' Bald Mountain in the background.
        There are all kinds of assemblages scattered around. Long term camps were established up here in the temperate part of the year, first to repair and upgrade the drive network, then to harvest & process the meat.  
 This is all pretty well known and documented. The "Monarch Pass Game Drive" was used from about 3,000 B.C. to the early 1800's, when native contact with whites occurred.  There are even some interpretive signs at the site, a surprise the first time I hiked through here.
 It covers a large area of grassy ridge, and it's easy to imagine the whole operation in action. I met some elk hunters up there this fall not far away. I guess some things haven't changed.
Once you know what you're looking for, you start to develop an eye for the difference between this stuff and 1800's mining ruins. For one thing the bases are deeply pressed into the ground.  The zig-zag lines of wall segments stand out against the tundra, and the terrain has natural features that would help channel big herds of big animals.                         
Here's a much more eroded short wall segment on the bushwhack up Bald Mtn.
 There are numerous artifacts along the ridge, including some ancient firepits.
Yup, this actually compares to authenticated, dated stone-lined firepits in the nearby upper Gunnison Basin. (Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology of the Colorado High Country,  University Press of Colorado, Stiger 2001) It's totally unexcavated, off-trail, and I don't know if anyone has noticed it before. What's really interesting about this one is that it's perched right on a cliff edge.                                            
 Looking West from the firepit, clear line-of-sight to 14er Uncompahgre Peak in the San Juan range.
                               To the east, a sightline to Pike's Peak, in the Front Range.
                               Hiking along the ridge among all this archaic infrastructure, my imagination runs wild. What if there was a long-range communication system in place, by signal fires, for thousands of years in the Rocky Mountains?        

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