I don’t always get a summer vacation. Sometimes, summers are just a series of busy, busy workdays, followed by a couple days of trying to catch up on yard work, garden, housework and laundry. There are exceptions, and this year was one of them.
This year, I planned a trip, along with my granddaughter, Madeline, in honor of her high school graduation. We started talking about it last Christmas, when a newsy letter enclosed in a Christmas card introduced the idea. I met Warren twenty-five years ago, on an archaeological expedition on Grand Turk Island through the EarthWatch organization. He has continued to explore the world, taking several trips each year; his annual Christmas letter summarizes his adventures.
I love archaeology, and have participated in “digs” here on Beaver Island and elsewhere. Madeline liked the idea, too. She had traveled with her parents through the southwest, and was familiar with some of the history of the Mesa Verde region. It helped to spark her enthusiasm when friends and teachers told her how jealous they were of her plans.
Once we had made our decision to go, there was lots of planning, paperwork and scheduling to deal with. We consulted lists for packing. Co-workers stepped in to help me rearrange my work schedule. I depended on my daughter’s help for getting a good rate on airline tickets. My sister Brenda and brother-in-law Keith agreed to get us to and from the airport. It all came together! This year, my granddaughter and I spent a week on an archaeological dig!
The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, in the Mesa Verde region of Colorado, conducts multi-disciplinary research into the ancestral Pueblo people. Their current endeavor, and the one we were a part of, is the “Northern Chaco Outliers Project.”
The Chaco Culture National Historic Park, in New Mexico, contains the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico. Many other sites in the “Four Corners” region show similarities in architecture and artifacts. One goal of the on-going Crow Canyon research is to explore how the people that lived in this area were influenced by or connected to the ancient people of Chaco Canyon.
After a crazy day that had started at 3 A.M. and was spent mostly running at top speed through airports to make our connections, we arrived at Crow Canyon on Sunday afternoon. We were given a brief tour of the area, and shown to the hogan that would be our home for the next seven days.
I took a nap; Madeline checked her internet connection. That was a harbinger of how we’d spend our free time for the next week: me, collapsing in exhaustion while Madeline – with ultimate patience and good-nature – entertained herself.
Dinner that evening was followed by an introductory talk on the work we’d be doing, and the questions the research was attempting to address. Monday morning was the start of our work week. Our time was divided between field work, lab work, and lectures. Every experience offered learning opportunities.
The field work was much more difficult than I expected. There was the dry heat (unusual to me, who has always lived in Michigan’s humid climate), and temperatures in the 90’s every day. There was the altitude: we were living and working in an area that was about 6200 feet above sea level, also totally out of my life-experience thus far. Then, much as I hate to admit it, there was my age. I am twenty-five years older than I was the last time I went on a similar working vacation. Though I was able to do it, and managed to keep up with the others, I sure felt it. I often set it as my personal goal to stay up until 8 o’clock; I was always fast asleep by nine!
Lab days were varied and always interesting. We sorted bags of artifacts brought in from the field. Bits of adobe, non-human bone and corn cob were separated from what would be submerged in a water bath. We washed everything else. We sorted, measured and catalogued pottery sherds. Shells, some types of stone, and red ware pottery all indicated trade. We learned to differentiate between earlier and later pottery styles, and to determine the size of a vessel based on a small fragment. Madeline enjoyed every aspect of the lab work, and excelled at it. I liked it too, but mostly loved seeing her enthusiasm.
Though we worked hard, we also had time for relaxation in the evenings. We had three good meals every day. We made friends. We learned a lot. I had a good time. The best part, though, of the entire week, was listening to Madeline’s fervent and animated discourse as she related her experience to my sister and her husband on the way back from the airport, and later when she told her parents about it. That solidified my belief that this would be a memorable experience for my granddaughter. That was my goal; knowing that it was makes the entire trip more wonderful to me!