|Visitors to the Range Creek Exhibit try their hand throwing atlatls.|
On the evening of April 7, the Museum of the San Rafael hosted an open house to unveil its new display, the traveling exhibit about Range Creek. Range Creek is a 37 mile long canyon and creek in the extreme southeast corner of Emery County. While the headwaters of Range Creek are in Carbon County, the portion of the canyon that has been in the news recently is entirely in Emery County.
When accessing Range Creek, the road traverses Horse Canyon to the top, and down Little Horse Canyon into the rugged canyon known as Range Creek. For more than 50 years, the Budge Wilcox family has owned and operated a farm and ranch in the southern portion of the area. The family owned the bulk of the canyon bottom surrounding the creek, with several portions of the area belonging to other private interests. The upper portions of the canyon, including the canyon walls is wilderness study area.
The Turtle Canyon Wilderness Study Area borders Range Creek on the west, and the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area borders it to the east. As a result, due to its natural isolation and the watchful eyes of the Wilcox family, the Range Creek archaeological sites have been virtually undisturbed since the Fremont culture inhabited the canyon.
Waldo and Don Wilcox were told by their father Budge, that even though they owned the land, they did not own the items left by the Fremont. The elder Wilcox instilled in his sons a respect for the land and those who inhabited the area in the past. The family worked the ranch and were aware of the artifacts in the area, but no one disturbed them. As part of the responsibilities of the Wilcox family stewardship of Range Creek, they made it their goal to see that no one else disturbed the sites either.
The traveling exhibit began its year long stay at the Museum of the San Rafael by inviting elementary school children to a hands on exploration of archaeological treasures. Ephraim Dixon of the Utah Museum of Natural History set up learning stations for the students to experience how the search for archaeological artifacts is done.
Students from Castle Dale Elementary were introduced to the tools used by archaeological explorers. They were also given a broad overview of what scientists have learned about the Fremont culture and the role they played in the history of Utah. The students were shown artifacts that were left by the Fremont, how they grew and stored provisions, how they hunted, and how they lived.
As a part of the displays, the students received hands-on instruction in the process of weaving baskets from natural plants. They also ground corn with stones, learned about hunting implements such as arrowheads and spears, and learned to thrown the spears known as atlatls.
Waldo Wilcox explained, "Range Creek was settled more recently in 1883 as a grazing area. Preston Nutter purchased the canyon in the early 1900s, and my dad bought it in 1951. When we first came to Range Creek, there were no roads into the canyon. All our provisions had to be packed in on mules and horses. I felt it was a great privilege to have been raised there," he said.
Derris Jones, of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources explained their role in the preservation of Range Creek. "Over the past year, interest in Range Creek has been growing rapidly. Several years ago, the Land and Water Conservation board, along with Rep. Jim Hansen began the process of the acquisition of Range Creek.
"Public law 105 was worded to say that the purpose of this acquisition was to preserve and enhance wildlife and insure access to the Bureau of Land Management lands surrounding the area. It was also their goal to preserve the archaeological resources of the canyon. The BLM had ownership for the first three years and the DWR held a conservation easement. When ownership was transferred to the DWR, the conservation easement was transferred to the Utah State Department of Agriculture and Food, and the Department of Forestry and State Lands. Our neighbors are the BLM and several other private landowners.
"Partners in the process are the University of Utah and the Utah State Museum of Natural History. They were on board when the BLM had Range Creek and they have stayed on due to the archaeological interests in the canyon. Their duties are to monitor and protect the cultural resources there.
"During the past year, an interim management plan for the canyon has been drafted. The Utah State Legislature mandated that Range Creek and its resources be protected, and the interim management plan is a result of that mandate. The plan is for the short term, and evaluations will be completed and changes made as needed.
"Access into the canyon is by foot or horseback only and is granted on a permit basis. Permits must be applied for on-line. Museums and regional offices are available to assist persons wishing to obtain one. Only 28 visitors will be allowed into the canyon on a daily basis, and the permits are valid for one day. The canyon is totally day use only. Visitors may drive to the gate and proceed from there on foot or horseback.
"Camping will not be allowed in the canyon and no campfires will be allowed. The legislature has made funding available for a law enforcement presence in the canyon daily. The season for visiting Range Creek is April 15-Dec. 1, although we do not expect the snow to allow access until mid to late May. Through the winter, several rocks have fallen onto the road and will need to be cleared when the snow recedes.
"Another consideration for the visiting public is the total lack of services in the area. There are no convenience stores, no drinking water, and no food. It is very primitive and visitors should take their own provisions. The nearest source for supplies is East Carbon or Price. The DWR is hoping to have portable outhouses placed at the gate.
"Visitors should keep in mind that from the gate to the ranchhouse is 12 miles one way. If they wish to visit the ranchhouse, that would be a 24 mile round trip.
"Hunting and fishing are allowed in the canyon, remember day use only, as long as the person has the required licenses. Elk hunting is a limited entry permit basis and must be drawn for. For deer hunting, and also fishing, the proper licensing is required.
"Wildlife in the canyon includes elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and two bison that swam the river from the reservation. Small game includes turkeys, grouse, chukkars, and rabbits.
"There is every kind of predator in Range Creek as the remainder of the state, including bears, coyotes, foxes, and cougars.
"Birds found in the canyon are hawks, eagles, owls, and many varieties of songbirds. There are German brown trout in the creek now, and the Division is hoping to do some habitat work around the creek and plant Colorado cutthroat trout in the stream," said Jones.