© 2012; 2001 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Alison Gardner. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

The Dirt on Crow Canyon – A Solo Travel Report

Text & Photo by Alison Gardner

A week at Crow Canyon can be a vacation, an education, or a volunteer project. I had read all about Crow Canyon Archaeological Center before I drove up to the front entrance of its 70-acre Colorado campus just outside the town of Cortez, but I still felt like a nervous college kid checking into residence before my first day of classes. A gracious welcome awaited me in the foyer, together with a thick information package on my Adult Research Program, forms to complete (homework already!), and directions to my hogan, one of ten circular log cabins built in the traditional Navajo style.

Adult Research Program

My Omaha roommate, Vicky, a 50-something artist and a veteran of several Crow Canyon programs, had already selected her bed, dresser drawers and closet space. I crowcdiningpicked from the three remaining bunks, unpacked and made up my bed with sleeping bag and pillow brought from home. Keeping priorities straight, I checked out the well-maintained central washroom two hogans away, with separate facilities for "Hogan's Heroes" and "Heroines." Next I located the dining hall, a short downhill stroll along walkways blended to a landscape of fragrant sagebrush and ponderosa pine. The adobe-style building had a rustic, western-style front porch where a group of about 40 high school students lounged and chatted while waiting for the chow bell to ring.They had come from all across North America for a month-long, summer program and were housed above the dining hall in eight-bunk rooms, strategically distant from the hogans occupied by participants in the Adult Research Program. Incidentally, for those interested, Crow Canyon also offers teen-free, Adult Only weeks on campus.

Anthropology to Hash

Over a cafeteria-style dinner and an evening introduction to our program, I met my fellow students (aged 20 to 60) who had come to dig and learn about archaeology. Several returning alumni assured me that chef Jim Martin's food brought them back every year. Specializing in colorful, tasty Southwestern cuisine, Jim's culinary fame soon proved to be well deserved and seconded by his talent for telling entertaining stories about how he made the switch from anthropologist to hash slinger.

Some participants, like me, were there for the first time, others on a repeat vacation. The group included two couples, one from Virginia (pharmacist and teacher), another from Nevada (school principal and teacher), a university student, a computer programmer, an urban architect, a chartered accountant, and two mothers doing something personally satisfying without their families in tow.

The next few days passed quickly. Before we were let loose in the field with our buckets and archaeology tools, we learned to recognize what we were looking for and how to remove it without damage, spent time in the lab washing and classifying artifacts from previous digs, and toured sites to pick where we would like to work.

The Ancestral Pueblo or Anasazi, as they were labeled by later Navajo arrivals to the area, were the subject of our efforts. The region around Crow Canyon is abundant with evidence that people have occupied the area as far back as 11,500 BC. However, most artifacts and remaining structures date from a mere 1000AD to the final disappearance of these creative people about 1300AD. Where did such substantial populations go? We spent the rest of the week wrestling with credible theories and outlandish speculations surrounding the mystery.

As novices we spent, in reality, only one and a half days actually excavating, which is why many participants return again and again to put their acquired skills to work in more intensive field programs.

The professors and their research associates who coordinated the dig program were excited about their work and grateful for our conscientious helping hands. Many were world authorities in their fields, but they had no difficulty sharing complex ideas with us in easily understandable terms.

Disbursed to small group assignments each day, we greeted one another like long lost friends at night, hungry for our dinner and for news of others' discoveries. Strangers quickly developed a camaraderie in the evening as we chatted in the lounge or walked country roads. Sometimes we shared an archaeology-related video, or piled into vehicles and headed six miles into town for a glass of locally brewed beer.

By the time the Adult Research Program drew to a close, and I drove away from my first but not last Crow Canyon experience, I had happily added another credential to my life list: amateur archaeologist.

Archaeology Adventures

Crown Canyon Archaeological Center

With no government handouts and 80% of operating funds coming from its own programs, Crow Canyon is an inspired example of self-promotion and innovative financing. New ideas are constantly being developed to support research and educational outreach programs.

The alumni of Crow Canyon are supporters for life who play a big part in spreading the word across the continent. As research associate Bill Lipe said, "Crow Canyon was founded to make archaeology more public – to enable non-archaeologists to learn about and participate in archaeological research. The whole field has benefitted as, over the years, Crow Canyon has educated thousands of students and adults about what can be learned from archaeology, the difference between 'pothunting' and real archaeology, and the importance of protecting sites."

Like my Field Experience program, all Cultural Explorations programs are single friendly, ranging from Southwestern and Native American cuisine and music workshops to walking or horseback tours of ancient trails and seldom-visited sites, and seminars on the role of women in past and present native cultures.

Details: Crow Canyon Archeological Center.

Council for British Archaeology

The CBA promotes the study and safeguarding of Britain's historic past. Numerous archaeology field schools and volunteer projects take place throughout Britain each year under the auspices of various community and educational institutions. A free Excavations Fact Sheet covers "everything you always wanted to know about archaeological excavations but were afraid to ask."

Details: CBA.

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology

Offered by the Tyrrell Museum since 1995, the Field Experience program permits participants to work beside museum staff at Dinosaur Provincial Park, located in the badlands of southern Alberta, about 200 km east of Calgary. Teams collect and prepare specimens of dinosaur, turtle, crocodile, and other fossils. No experience is necessary. Weekly sessions operate June through August, with one, two, or three-week stays possible. Fees C$800 (US$650) one week; C$1,500 (US$1,200) two weeks; C$600 (US$500) subsequent weeks. The cost includes camp-style facilities/accommodation, meals and work-related supplies.

Details: Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.

Earthwatch Institute

The Earthwatch Institute is an international, non-profit organization with offices in USA, England, Australia and Japan. It supports scientific research programs of all kinds. Members volunteer time and skills to work with scientists on hundreds of field research projects around the globe. Special skills are not required in most cases. Fees average US$1,600 for one to three-week expeditions, which includes food and simple/camp lodging.

Details: Earthwatch Institute.

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Alison Gardner is the author of Travel Unlimited: Uncommon Adventures for the Mature Traveler (US$19.95, Avalon Travel Publishing, 2000). The book features all sorts of educational, ecological, and volunteer vacations. Info is on her website: www.travelwithachallenge.com

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