|Waldo Wilcox, center, speaks to Nancy Green and Duncan Metcalfe at the premier of the documentary on Range Creek.|
The acquisition of Range Creek has garnered much attention since the news of the event was made public in June of 2004. Since that time there have been numerous newspaper stories and a short documentary about Range Creek. This is the first time that an indepth, informative and thought provoking documentary has been produced by the broadcast media.
The Secrets of the Lost Canyon, produced by KUED offers a never before seen look at the canyon and leaves the viewer to draw his own conclusions, opinions and ideas for which direction the find should take in its care and direction for the future.
A premier showing of the documentary was held at the Geary Theater at the College of Eastern Utah with a reception held prior to the showing. The documentary featured interviews with the key players in the Range Creek saga. Ken Verdoia along with Nancy Green were the producers with Green doing much of the camera work.
Duncan Metcalfe has been a key archaeologist at Range Creek since the University of Utah Museum of Natural History became involved with the acquisition. This year he spent six months in the canyon. He is excited about the ongoing work by a graduate student to date tree ring samples to within a year. Metcalf said at the beginning of this years season in the canyon the high water made travel around the canyon difficult. The grasses also grew waist high this year, a marked difference between the previous drought years in the canyon.
The documentary starts with an aerial view of Range Creek which lies in Emery County. The residents of Range Creek lived there 500 years before Columbus came to America. The Fremonts were hunters and gatherers and stored grain high in the cliff tops and 800 years later they disappeared. Lowell Norris, an archaeologist from Harvard explored and documented around Range Creek in the early 1900s. He recorded rock art and noted sites where looters had already destroyed some sites. Norris in appealing for grant money said, Once these sites are lost they are gone forever. This still applies today in regards to the wealth of untouched sites found in Range Creek. Seventy pit house village sites have been discovered with estimates of 600 people living in these villages.
Metcalfe said 295 sites have now been found and all are basically 100 percent pristine. Kevin Jones, state archaeologist, said these pristine sites are an international treasure. Waldo Wilcox protected the canyon and resisted any temptation to loot the sites. Waldo was taught from a young age to respect and protect the remains of the Ancients. Waldo said he was half hermit, during his years at Range Creek. He worked to keep people out. His father Budge purchased the ranch which is nestled between the Roan and the Bookcliffs in the 1950s. Jeanie Jensen, Waldos daughter remembered her years at the ranch when they were snowed in and a plane from Green River would bring in the mail and supplies. It was fun, said Jeanie.
Range Creek is a prize area for trophy deer and the Wilcox family began a guide service allowing hunters a crack at the trophy bucks. Jeanie said she was taught by her father to let the Ancient people lie and they were never allowed to scratch on the rocks or deface the canyon in any way.
Waldo understands the need to leave those Ancients buried in the canyon alone, I dont want some damn hippy digging me up after Im gone, said Waldo.
Don Peay is an advocate for hunters and approached Congressman Jim Hansen when he heard the Wilcox property was up for sale. Hansen acquired the funds needed to purchase the ranch for the State of Utah. Waldo came down on the purchase price with the stipulation that he would retain all mineral rights on the land. In Dec. 2001 the sale was completed. This land acquisition joined a number of agencies at the hip with BLM, DWR, SITLA and the Museum of Natural History all being encouraged to work together for the good of Range Creek.
The acquisition came with the stipulations that wildlife and public access be given top priority. The remote location of Range Creek and its inaccessibility for seven months of the year has helped keep it in remarkable condition.
In documenting the granary sites, the Utah County Search and Rescue has added their expertise to the task of getting down to the sites. Rappelling down to the sites was a better option than coming up from below. This has enabled the archaeologists to view the inside of the granaries and the materials used to build them as well as the remains of maize inside.
John Valentine who is the president of the state senate is also a member of the Utah County Search and Rescue and has been an ardent supporter of Range Creek.
The mystery of how and why the granaries were built high in the cliffs hasnt been answered, but speculation of just storing grain or keeping it hidden from enemies was offered and the Native Americans speculated that these sites of stored grain may have been prayer offerings to the Gods that were not used but meant as a gift or offering.
Some of the granaries were so large they would hold 1,000 liters of grain which would require many trips up the mountain with baskets to fill the granary.
Undergraduate students have been working in Range Creek to document sites and they stay at the ranch house. They work in the field during the day and at night put information collected into the data base.
Kevin Jones said in 100 years he would still like the site to be as pristine as it is today. Metcalfe said some of his experience in the past has been to quickly collect and record data for sites because they would soon be bulldozed, or flooded as were the canyons surrounding Lake Powell, but with Range Creek he sees the opportunity to move slowly to gain the whole picture of what went before. Range Creek has the potential to be a long term research site with continuity, a rare opportunity.
One challenge is to protect Range Creek from looters. A lucrative antiquities market makes looting attractive to those wishing to profit from theft of these items. One looter in San Juan County was detected and prosecuted from the DNA left on a cigarette butt he had thrown into a pile of sift tailings at the site of the looting. Looters are difficult to find. Wayne Dance said, Archaeological resources are one of a kind and irreplaceable, gone forever, it is a unique crime and there are serious consequences.
Rudy Mauldin said, It is wrong and evil to dig up people. Its just wrong. We work to protect the right for these people to remain buried.
One full time law enforcement officer is in the canyon each day patrolling the area and watching for suspect activity as well as offering education and information about Range Creek.
Kevin Jones said, Range Creek is a vast library waiting to be read.
Those involved are anxious to protect Range Creek from the fate of nearby Nine Mile Canyon, which has been loved to death, according to BLM representative Blaine Miller. People have destroyed rock art and vandalized sites.
In the interim management plan for Range Creek it was determined that only 28 people each day be allowed a day use permit into Range Creek. This way the volume of traffic is controlled. Access is only by foot or horseback. It is a tough, dry hike and some people have been disappointed that the villages are not Mesa Verde like, but obscure pit houses.
Derris Jones said the wildlife habitat in the canyon is not the best and some dirt needs to be turned and reseeding done to make a better habitat for the wildlife. This turning of dirt causes concern with the archaeologists who are afraid undiscovered sites might be disturbed. For now, wildlife enhancement projects are on hold. Range Creek presents a very unique balancing act for the agencies involved.
Several Native American tribes claim the Fremonts as their ancestors which gives them a very keen interest in the canyon. They view the canyon as a sacred place. Native American consultants are considered part of the future plans for Range Creek. The Native Americans expressed their concern with being left out of the initial loop in regards to the canyon, but since have been consulted in planning efforts. Forrest Cuch, Native American said as he learns about the humanities he is most impressed with the similarities that exist between civilizations and the secrets to be learned in Range Creek can be a benefit to all mankind.
Another piece of the Range Creek puzzle could lie in the below the surface treasures. Natural gas has been found to be plentiful in Nine Mile Canyon and the Bill Barrett company is drilling there using horizontal wells which have less impact on the environment.
Waldo still owns the mineral rights in Range Creek and talk of buying these rights from Waldo has been kicked around, but no formal plans to buy him out has come forth. Waldo has commented that he will give the state first chance to buy his mineral rights.
Range Creek has the opportunity to be all things for all people with multiple use creating a balance for both archaeological and wildlife interests.
After the documentary was viewed a question and answer session was held. Kathleen Truman said there was no mention of preserving the 120 years of ranch history in Range Creek in the documentary. She would like to see ranch preservation mentioned in the management plan. Derris Jones said they are working to preserve the ranch sites and two new roofs were installed on existing buildings this summer.
In the filming of the documentary not everything could be included because there was so much information and some things were left out, but they tried their best said Verdoia. Steve Gerber is currently compiling a ranch history.
Layne Miller said he led 10 different tours into the canyon this past summer and there was a lot of excitement with waiting lists for tours for next year.
Metcalf said they have considered hardening some sites so kids could sit on the rocks, but these plans are just in the beginning stages as they have only been in the canyon for four years now.
Kevin Jones said these types of issues will be addressed in the management plan. There are trails appearing as people walk to the various sites and a plan needs to be visited of what route to take and how to get there.
In making the documentary Verdoia said they tried to remain objective and not take any sides with the issues facing the canyon as each side and their viewpoint is important.
Waldo was impressed with the documentary and told Nancy Green he wouldnt change a thing, the only thing hes worried about now is that theyll try to take me to Hollywood. The Secrets of the Lost Canyon will debut on KUED on Nov. 21 at 8 p.m.