Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
We’re headed to the deserts for the winter right after New Year’s Day and were told by another RVer that it was possible to find signs of the existence of prehistoric Native Americans in places not protected (such as in National Parks and monuments). We thought it would be fun to explore the areas where we boondock looking for these signs. How would we go about it? Thanks. —Sylvia and Marshall
Hi Sylvia and Marshall,
Searching for evidence of prehistoric people in the Southwestern deserts can be difficult, frustrating, educational, challenging and fun. It is not enough just to think like a Stone Age hunter – whether there is a source of water, nearby game and adequate shelter. Rivers that once flowed here or springs that gushed from the ground may have dried up in the last couple thousand years, and where once enough foliage grew for woolly mammoths to feed, several climate changes may have left the region a dry desert. However, there are a few preliminary steps you can take to make the quest a bit easier.
Knowing something of the prehistory of the locality in which you hope to search can determine whether the area at one time contained water sources or was along travel routes used by ancient hunters and gatherers. This information should be available from local libraries, national, state or regional visitor centers, local history teachers and park rangers. Once you’ve determined the existence of former habitation, you at least know that the possibility exists of finding evidence.
Those same sources can direct you to known signs that can serve as starting points for your search. Sometimes rangers or others who possess this knowledge may be a bit reluctant to point out these spots because of past acts of vandalism and artifact gathering. Note that no collecting of archeological specimens is allowed on lands owned or controlled by the United States government. You may have to convince authorities that you are an amateur historian and would never deface or collect any historic artifacts.
Two factors to consider in your search: One, since hunters and gatherers were always on the move, they traveled light, with few possessions. Stones used for grinding the beans of mesquite, acacias, and palo verdes into flour consisted of a handheld stone, the “mano,” and a “metate,” shallow depressions in rocks or deeper holes from six to ten inches in diameter and sometimes a foot or more deep in a boulder or flat rock surface. Their weight dictated that they be left behind when they moved on, and they can be found today in thousands of locations in the Southwest where the tribe or family group camped. Second, wherever they camped, they also drew or carved pictures – pictographs or petroglyphs – into rock or cave surfaces. Once you find one metate or petroglyph, you know there are more nearby.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .