A View from the Edge of the PIT: The Glendale Excavation
Ashley National Forest, Utah, 1997
by Pegg Noyes, PIT Volunteer
Some of the best decisions in life begin in very simple and innocent ways. Thus began my decision to be a PIT volunteer.
I was on vacation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was reading the sometimes-boring travel guides provided in the hotel rooms. A fascinating article caught my eye. Petroglyphs had been discovered and restored by volunteer archaeologists in New Mexico. The article listed the PIT address, and I could not wait to get home to write and express my interest in becoming involved. I realized my experience was limited, but this did not dampen my enthusiasm for volunteering. The catalog arrived a few months later. This was my beginning.
As in the choice of a house, the adage “location, location, location” was an important consideration in my selection of a first project. The catalog was full of options of beautiful places to contemplate for the beginning of my adventure into archaeology. Ashley NF near Dutch John, Utah, seemed like a perfect location for me. The age of the small prehistoric village scheduled to be excavated greatly interested me, and I tried to imagine just how old the artifacts might be as visions of old Indian relics danced in my head. The descriptions of working under the beautiful ponderosa pines were just the words that cemented my decision to apply.
A few months later as the confirmation letter and packing list arrived, I set my mind and body in gear for the trip. Some questions were beginning to pop into my head. “Now where did I put that wide-brimmed straw hat?” I began to wonder just how dirty I’d get and how hot it would be. “Will it rain, and what if I really did become stuck in a pit of mud?” Surely someone would help me out of such mishaps if they occurred?
After considerable debate about exactly what to pack, I managed to get my two large bags packed and onto the plane, and I was on the way to Salt Lake City! The drive from Salt Lake to Dutch John was incredible, and the beauty of the land was therapy enough to know it was going to be a week very much unlike the “desk job” I have in Omaha, Nebraska. I arrived safely at the lodge near the site. From that moment forward, the adventure truly began.
I soon met my covolunteers for the week. The welcome, the self-introductions of PIT volunteers and staff, and the presentation on site history were fascinating. Each person uniquely contributed to the group. I could not have picked a better group of volunteers and staff. They all seemed to know more about this “dig” thing than I did. Words like “flake,” “point,” “trowel,” and “dig” began to take on new meanings.
A tour of the area really added to the mystery of what we might uncover, and I couldn’t wait to begin. As a rookie to archaeology, I wondered all night just exactly what we would be doing and what might be uncovered.
My anxieties were soon soothed as we began the work, which was interesting as well as rewarding. The work was dirty, but the finds made it well worth the dirt. “Why did we have so much charcoal at our site?” “What interesting artifacts were the other groups finding?” Many conversations and hypotheses were ventured, but only those who lived there so many years ago have the real answers to these burning questions.
The idea of cooking meals together for breakfast and in the evening seemed like a good one to me, as I have a gourmet appetite but very average cooking abilities. Much to my relief, the recipes and all of the needed supplies were right there for the cooks. I had the opportunity to cook more times than clean up, which was just fine with me. How could I be so hungry and eat so much? Maybe the walk to and from the site contributed, but I did eat my share of the well-organized and well-prepared meals.
The conversations around the campfire in the evenings added just the right touch to the camping atmosphere. No campfire experience is complete without s’mores, which I am happy to say taste just as good as they did many years ago in Brownie Scout camping days. My face and hands got just as sticky as in prior experiences with warm marshmallows and chocolate.
The week went all too fast, and it was time to say good-bye to fast-made friends. So with my newly stamped PIT Passport, T-shirt, hat, and button in hand, I climbed the hill one more time to call it a day and head home with many fond memories.
The view from the edge of the pit was clearly excellent, and it has certainly changed my view of the past as well as the future. I am now planning my next PIT adventure with just as much enthusiasm and anticipation as I had for the first and with a far greater appreciation of those prehistoric men and women who had far-less-well-equipped kitchens and yet cooked nutritious meals to nourish many a weary body and soul.