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Strange Structures – Howardsville, CO Quadrangle

Latitude: -107.609692
Longitude: 37.802494

As part of our amTopo map creation process, we import aerial imagery into our software to ensure roads, trails and other features can be accurately digitized. Sometimes we spot some pretty interesting things in the imagery, many which are clearly recognizable (Ancient Puebloan ruins, craters, flocks of sheep, etc.). Occasionally, we get stumped, however, as was the case when generating our Howardsville, Colorado 7.5 Minute topographic map.

Howardsville is located in the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado, just east of Silverton, and rich in mining history. Abandoned mining structures and tailings are a common site along hiking trails and 4WD roads in the area, but while digitizing the Silver Lake Trail (formerly a mining road), we noticed several triangular objects that were unlike typical mine structures. These objects were all aligned in the same direction (uphill) and were casting shadows, implying they had some height to them.

Pointing the way to riches hidden in Arrastra Gulch? (Image courtesy of Google Maps )

After scouring the internet for some answers (we won’t discuss the lost productivity resulting from said search), we finally learned that what we were seeing are structures that were built by the miners to protect other structures from dangerous avalanches. These are commonly referred to as avalanche splitters or diverters.

Protection for an aerial tram tower (Image courtesy of FishPOET)

In the image above, you can see how the stone and metal splitter provided up-slope protection for an aerial tram used to bring ore from the mines down to the mill. In the event of an avalanche, the splitter would dissipate the slide’s energy and deflect snow to the sides and away from the tram tower. Even though the splitter itself is dome-shaped, when viewed from above you see its triangular form. These splitters were strategically constructed in treeless avalanche chutes where miners and their mining facilities were at greatest risk during winter.

For those of you who are fascinated with strange and curious sites as seen from space, check out Weird Google Earth – plenty of mystery, history and beauty out there!

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Procession Panel – Bluff SW, UT Quadrangle

Latitude: -109.647990
Longitude: 37.350706

My husband and I recently did some hiking and exploring in Comb Ridge with the objective of locating the extensive petroglyph display known as Procession Panel.  While not exactly a secret, locations of many Anasazi ruins and rock art sites throughout the Four Corners region are kept under wraps by history enthusiasts, public lands employees and scientists such as archaeologists, anthropologists and the likes for fear of vandalism and over-visitation that can cause permanent damage to such sites.  However, with a little research and some decent map-reading skills, most folks can figure out where some of the more significant sites are located.  (Most sites are located on public lands managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.)  Increased public awareness efforts by officials are also doing much to enlighten visitors about how best to treat such fragile sites so that they may be preserved for generations to come.

Bluff SW, UT 7.5 Minute Quadrangle

Procession Panel is located in Comb Ridge, which is a unique geologic formation called a monocline that extends approximately 80 miles north-to-south across the Arizona and Utah border. Comprised of sedimentary layers (Navajo Sandstone on the eastern, gently sloped side, Wingate Sandstone forming the steep, western cliffs), this “hogback” is riddled with alcoves, springs and canyons.  The riparian Comb and Butler Washes paralleling the ridge on both sides provided water, game and edible and medicinal plants, making this region ideal for habitation by the Anasazi.

Believed to be rock art dating from the Basketmaker III period, which pre-dated the more famous Pueblo I, II, and III periods best known for their impressive cliff dwellings and pottery, Procession Panel depicts a scene of numerous (179 is one documented count) figures called anthropomorphs that appear to be marching from multiple directions towards a specific destination taking the form of a circle.  Zoomorphs are also present, and include several deer or elk, as well as a mountain sheep. At least two anthropomorphs have birds atop their heads, several are holding crooks, and many are holding up one arm carrying some type of object that resembles a torch (in some cases, these lines or objects look almost like fingers).   Some experts believe Procession Panel is a migration story, and quite likely there was significant spiritual meaning to some, if not all of the panel’s elements, although it is unlikely we will ever fully understand what the ancient artists intended.

Procession Panel

Aside from the impressive and mysterious rock art itself, the setting is perhaps equally gripping.  One can imagine the artist (or artists) working quietly as the sun set to the west.  Perhaps they were within signaling distance of other groups across the wash; perhaps they were teachers responsible for recording their culture’s history and enlightening the next generation.  Whatever the case, we are fortunate to have sites like Procession Panel still in existence and so accessible.

View of the La Sal Mountains to the northeast of Comb Ridge

If you have been inspired to visit sites such as Procession Panel, please remember to tread lightly and treat all rock art sites and ruins with respect so that others may enjoy them, too.  As the saying goes, “take only pictures and leave only footprints.”

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Battle of Las Animas Canyon Monument & Buffalo Soldier Cemetery – Victoria Park*, NM Quadrangle

Latitude: 33.0541
Longitude: -107.7528

On September 18, 1879, Buffalo Soldiers (African-American regiments formed after the Civil War) serving with Companies B and E of the 9th U.S. Cavalry based in Fort Stanton, New Mexico, were ambushed and pinned down by the infamous Chief Victorio and approximately 60 of his warriors from the Warm Springs band of Chiricahua Apache.  As the soldiers pursued Victorio into the mouth of Massacre Canyon (named after this incident) where it joins Las Animas Creek, the soldiers quickly became trapped and forced afoot as their mounts were shot from under them by Apache warriors camouflaged and holding positions high above in the steep, rocky canyon walls.  Two nearby companies, C & G, also in pursuit of Victorio, heard the gunfire and came to assist, but they too, were instantly pinned down.  The battle raged for hours until finally the soldiers were able to retreat under the cover of darkness.

During this tumultuous period in the desert southwest, the Warm Springs Apache had already been removed from their native lands at Ojo Caliente, and forced to live with their sworn enemies on the San Carlos Indian Reservation in Arizona. After having escaped San Carlos twice, the Warm Springs Apache were eventually relocated to the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation at Fort Stanton, New Mexico, but due to incredibly poor living conditions and catching wind that the government was to send the group back to San Carlos, Victorio and his warriors fled again, swearing never to return.  Thus began his most violent rampages throughout the region, and in turn, the 9th Cavalry’s arduous and dangerous pursuit.

Official military reports of the event vary, but list either five or six troopers killed, two or three Navajo scouts killed, one civilian killed, and 32 horses killed in the battle.  No Apache were believed killed.  Oddly, none of the reports seems to directly correlate with the 32-plus actual graves at the monument site.  Three soldiers, Lieutenant Robert Temple Emmet, Lieutenant Mathias Day and Sergeant John Denny received the Congressional Medal of Honor for acts of bravery during the battle.

Located on private property that was homesteaded shortly after the Victorio War, the Buffalo Soldier/Massacre Canyon Cemetery was officially dedicated with full military honors on June 14, 1997 as a result of research efforts by the New Mexico Home Town Heroes Committee for the National Medal of Honor Society and the New Mexico Army National Guard.  Much of the actual battlefield lies just to the northwest on Gila National Forest land.

For a short but informative video depicting the history of Buffalo Soldiers stationed in New Mexico, visit KNME’s Moment In Time site:

Another highly detailed account of the event and participants may be found by visiting the following link to the Boots and Saddles New Mexico Foundation.  Author Ken Dusenberry’s article provides a great understanding of the events leading up to this battle, and provides additional information about the dedication ceremony and later archaeological study:

* Despite encompassing the homeland of Victorio and his people, this USGS Quadrangle was incorrectly named Victoria Park.  The US Forest Service is now using the correct nomenclature.

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Kaibab Suspension Bridge – Phantom Ranch, AZ Quadrangle

Latitude: 36.1008
Longitude: -112.0891

Perhaps the most popular hiking destination in America, Phantom Ranch – situated along the Bright Angel Trail and the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park –has a vast human history in addition to being located in one of the most awe-inspiring natural settings.  The Kaibab Suspension Bridge, also called Black Bridge, is one of the more awe-inspiring man made features still present in the area.

The spot known today as Phantom Ranch was first called “Rust’s Camp” around the turn of the 20th century, but had been settled by Native Americans well before then.  David Rust was the first to establish a tourist trail from the North Rim to the inner canyon along Bright Angel Creek, terminating at a tent camp.  He was also the first to design a means by which visitors could cross the mighty Colorado River and continue up to the South Rim.  His first engineering feat, completed in 1907, was the construction of a cable tram across the river.  This tram could only accommodate a single mule or a few people at a time.  As visitation to the inner gorge increased, a wooden suspension bridge soon replaced the precarious cable tram, but high winds would cause the narrow bridge to sway heavily, sometimes flipping over, making it an equally harrowing crossing.  By 1928, the National Park Service decided it was necessary to construct the current steel cable suspension bridge.  At the time, this was the only bridge to cross the Colorado River upstream of Needles, California – some 360 river miles to the south.

Because no roads existed (then, or now), mules and men were needed to haul all of the construction materials down to the canyon floor.  Each of the 1-ton, 550-foot steel cables was too heavy to be hauled by mules.  Instead, they had to be uncoiled and stretched lengthwise atop the shoulders of 42 Havasupai Indians hiking single-file down nine miles of trail with a vertical descent of 4,000 feet.  This feat was repeated eight times in order to get all of the cable moved.

To this day, hikers are dazzled by the experience of emerging from the short, dark tunnels on either side of the bridge into the heart of the Grand Canyon with the Colorado River and its rafters rushing downstream, just 65 feet below.  The ability of visitors to cross from rim to rim has allowed for unrivaled back country experiences and the Kaibab Bridge remains a true engineering feat in such an extreme environment.

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Cascade Canyon Wye – Electra Lake, CO Quadrangle

Latitude: 37.5945
Longitude: -107.7777

For those of you who are rail buffs, you may already know a bit about this feature, or at least, its function.  The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway historically operated between Denver and Salt Lake City, with numerous spurs connecting to the various mining and lumber towns scattered across the Rockies.  Today, most of the original line has long been abandoned and removed.  One particularly popular stretch still in operation, however, is a 45-mile section run by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG), which takes tourists between these two quintessentially western mountain towns and follows the scenic Animas River through steep, forested terrain.

Located approximately 26 miles north of Durango, the Cascade Canyon Wye was constructed in 1981 to provide the D&SNG a place to turn around during winter excursions when heavy snow pack prevents the train from proceeding all the way to Silverton.  In addition to the triangle-shaped track that allows the train to make a three-point turn and reverse direction, a structure has also been erected on the banks of the Animas that serves as a lunch area for winter passengers.

The next few miles of track north of Cascade Canyon Wye pass additional historic sites, such as the impressive steel Tefft Bridge built in 1887 (named for an early forest ranger Guy Tefft), and an abandoned boiler.  Per Robert T. Royem, author of America’s Railroad: The Official Guidebook, this wood and coal powered boiler came from Locomotive 32, the “Gold King” and was sacrificed by the side of the tracks in order to power a sawmill and other machinery used by the railroad company around 1910-1911.  A little farther up canyon, Cascade Siding (no longer in existence) was used by ranchers to load and transport livestock from the area.  A section house was also located here at one time, and the siding saw additional action as recently as January 2001, when the D&SNG assisted the Colorado Division of Wildlife in releasing a number of bighorn sheep into the surrounding Weminuche Wilderness.

To anyone planning a visit Southwest Colorado: be sure to check out Durango and ride this infamous train (think Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid).  You will revel in the natural beauty of the region and see plenty of local history come alive while on the rails!

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Music Mountain – Weavers Needle, AZ Quadrangle

Latitude: 33.4552
Longitude: -111.3115

Having spent quite a bit of time hiking in the Superstition Wilderness, I’ve often wondered about the alluring name of this particular mountain, as well as nearby features, Music Canyon and Music Canyon Spring.  Located in the heart of the wilderness between the Red Tanks Trail on the west and Old Peter’s and Hoolie Bacon Trails to the east, Music Mountain is situated amongst some of the most spectacularly rugged yet beautiful Sonoran desert terrain.  Was the name’s inspiration some glorious turn-of-the-century orchestral work? Was it coined after listening to a particularly lovely babbling brook or native songbird?  Was a young Apache maiden overheard singing by a miner in search of treasure?  I assumed it was something joyous or romantic, but instead learned of a bit more mysterious and possibly even spooky origin.

After doing a little digging, I came across a great article written about Music Mountain by a local historian, Tom Kollenborn (January 2009).  In his article, he referenced an even earlier newspaper article that appeared in the Mesa Journal-Tribune back on August 13, 1928.  The article was the very first publication in which the name Music Mountain was recorded, and the name stuck.  The story goes something like this:

Ray Howland, a well-known “Lost Dutchman Goldmine” hunter and treasure seeker at the time, was the subject of the original Mesa Journal-Tribune article and described his discovery of “a musical mountain” while exploring the Superstitions.  Per Ray, “the air around Music Mountain is filled with a weird melodious sound that cannot be attributed to the wind whistling through the rocks because the sounds can be heard when the wind is not blowing at all.”

To quote Mr. Kollenborn, “Stories about how important Music Mountain is to Native Americans still circulate. The musical sounds that emanate from Music Canyon and its tributaries continue to produce stories about how sacred the area is to the Native Americans. Old timers talk about Apache burial grounds on Music Mountain and the haunting sounds of the dead. The Apaches and Yavapais gathered agave hearts on Peter’s Mesa just north of Music Mountain. Their roasting pits can still be found on Peter’s Mesa. Their activity in the area might well have warranted a burial site on a nearby mountain such as Music. Some years ago I was talking to an old friend, Phillip Cassadores, a traditional Apache medicine man on the San Carlos Reservation. He cautioned me not to be so sure these stories were not true. Ray Howland may have become involved with an unexplainable legend when he talked about the music and ghosts of Music Mountain.”

Other historians have claimed that the mountain was named for a local cattleman with the last name Music, but no documentation has ever been produced to support this theory.

Anyone who has ever hiked in the Superstitions can attest to the strange vibe that is sometimes felt within the wilderness.  Perhaps it is the depth and variety of lore and legend tied to the landscape.  Perhaps it the serene, yet edgy isolation one feels after hiking just a few miles in to such a rugged place.  Whatever the case, because the origin of Ray Howland’s name for the mountain remains somewhat mysterious to this day, it is a perfect fit for the mysterious and romantic place forever known as the Superstition Wilderness.

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Chautauqua Park – Eldorado Springs, CO Quadrangle

Latitude: 39.9994
Longitude: -105.2813

I’m currently doing some work in Boulder, Colorado and thought it would be appropriate for my very first post to feature a local quadrangle – Eldorado Springs.  Those of you familiar with the area have most likely visited Chautauqua Park and hiked its trails just southwest of town.  But do you know the history of the name?  I did not, so naturally I looked it up.

I assumed it was a Native American word (which it is), but did not know it means roughly “foggy place.”  It first originated in New York, and Chautauqua County, NY was the first jurisdiction to assume the name.

Chautauqua (pronounced “sha-taw-kwa”) soon became the term for an adult education and enlightenment movement that began in the above-mentioned county.   In 1874, a local Methodist summer camp began offering secular activities in addition to the standard religious offerings.  At the time, cultural enrichment and travel was a luxury enjoyed only by the very wealthy, so the ability for rural families to experience the arts and listen to guest lecturers in a natural setting became wildly popular.  Because of the success and appeal of the “Mother Chautauqua” as the original New York Institution was later nicknamed, several hundred “Daughter Chautauquas” were eventually established nationwide by the mid-1920’s.

With the advent of radio and television and improved transportation, rural Americans were no longer so isolated and starved for culture and education.  The popularity of Chautauquas steadily diminished and today, Colorado’s Chautauqua Park  is one of only three remaining Chatauquas in the United States.  It was established on July 4, 1898 and is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So, next time you find yourself  in the Boulder area, be sure to check out Chautauqua Park and see for yourself what Teddy Roosevelt meant when he called the institutions “the most American thing in America.”