Snake Gulch - Passport in Time

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Snake Gulch

Kaibab National Forest, Arizona, 1997
by Lawrence M. Lesko, Assistant Forest Archaeologist

Snake Gulch, a wildly sinuous northern tributary of the Grand Canyon, contains one of the finest collections of prehistoric rock paintings on the Colorado Plateau. Rock art in Snake Gulch was a significant component in the lives of the prehistoric, protohistoric, and historical-period peoples who used the area. Cultural/temporal manifestations range from the Late Archaic through the Basketmaker and Pueblo eras and include the Southern Paiute, who continue to live in the area. The Kaibab NF heritage staff has been recording these paintings since 1987, but as the sites are distributed for 8 linear miles in a wilderness area, much still remains to be done.

Between September 29 and October 3, 1997, seven PIT volunteers and the heritage staff returned to Snake Gulch, the scene of the Kaibab’s first PIT project in 1991. Most of the volunteers were professional artists, and all were experienced backpackers, which was necessary, as the project operated from a wilderness spike camp. Despite the hardships of heavy packs, intense sun, rattlesnakes, and lightning (actually some mentioned that the thunderstorm on the last night was the highlight of the trip), 23 pictograph sites were recorded, and 72 scale drawings were completed, many in color. In addition, several sites were selected for experiments with computer-enhancing photography, which will aid in determining superimposition and elements not seen by human eye. Also among the volunteers were two Arizona state employees, one from Arizona State Parks and another from the State Historic Preservation Office.

Among those visiting during the project were representatives of the Kaibab Paiute Tribe, including the tribal chairperson, members of the heritage staff, and some of the elders. Snake Gulch is within the Kanab Creek Wilderness, which is a portion of the grazing allotment leased by the Kane Ranch. Representatives of the Kane Ranch visited, along with the Kaibab Paiutes, viewed the pictographs, and talked with the recorders and heritage staff about research and protection efforts. This and other collaborative efforts have led to an agreement to refrain from grazing cattle in Snake Gulch as well as a generous grant from Kane Ranch to conduct research that would involve both the Kaibab Paiute and Hopi Tribes.

A total of 248 volunteer hours was contributed during the project, valued at $3,010. The baseline scale drawings that were made will be used to monitor condition, to establish locations for potential violations of the Archaeological Research Protection Act, and for research. This latter benefit is extremely important as we move to a collaborative research phase involving tribal traditions. The data can now be shared more readily, and site visits will no longer require lengthy treks to the actual locations, which can be a hardship or impractical for the elderly. None of this would be possible without the skill and dedication of our PIT volunteers, who continue to demonstrate their commitment to our shared heritage.
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