New Discoveries: February 2019

I visited the cave I’d discovered some while ago to check on it, make sure it was undisturbed. To give you an idea of how easy it is to miss things in country like this, I walked right past it and had to backtrack even knowing it was there. It’s that well hidden.

In fact, I had missed part of the site on my initial discovery. I found a second separate site 50 feet to the east of the cave. This one has a small clear area ringed with rock and a single petroglyph that mirrors another I’d documented at a site around ten miles as the crow flies from here. 

I also came across some beefy chunks of bone that indicate a larger animal’s presence. I’m guessing these are far later than the site because the desert sun degrades even bone and I doubt anything would be left of any carcass from centuries ago.

The first two photos below are of the main cave. In the third photo, my first find is outlined in blue, my latest discovery is in red and I’ve provided an inset of the petroglyph located there. The fourth photo is a higher resolution image of the petroglyph. You can click on them for a larger, more detailed view. 

To the right of the main cave I noticed a flat spur of rock about three feet from the ground. It made for a pretty convenient seat. Coincidentally, It was also at the spot where most of the obsidian flakes and the arrowhead are located. It is easy to imagine the toolmaker knapping and gazing out at the vast landscape beyond. These moments of insight or at least imagination help take an interesting archaeological discovery and, in some ways, an abstraction to a more human level. Glimpses into the lifestyle, not just scattered bits of a forgotten people. 

This trip my aim was to hike the entire canyon to see if there were any other traces of the Coso people further in. There were a few basalt outcrops I’d glimpsed up canyon that appeared to have potential. This, I did, without finding anything else. However, I detoured to a very interesting outcropping approximately a mile from the cave. It was of paler rock and very weathered and “geographic”, featuring many alcoves and interesting nooks and crannies. It didn’t take long to spot the telltale signs of paleolithic habitation: the cleared area, the low rock walls and the glitter of obsidian flakes. 

A short distance to the northeast was a second cleared area but much less sheltered. The view from this particular shelter is absolutely stunning, looking out over a wilderness of volcanic rock to snowclad mountains in the distance. 

After having discovered these sites, it has made me intensely curious about the Coso people. Very little is known about them. They’ve left fragments and glyphs, in some cases mortars. We don’t know how they dealt with their dead, why they established shelters in some locations (usually near a water source, but this second one isn’t), what language they spoke, what their social structure was. Even the Paiute and Shoshone people native to the region confess no knowledge of them. I’d like know more. So I’ll sift through the ephemeral cues, sit in old places and think. 

Note: I am deliberately vague regarding locations and do not post photos of these locations within their geographic context in order to keep them secret and safe. I leave all sites undisturbed. 

Curiosities in the Hinterlands

Did some more extensive exploring in regions I’ve visited before and turned up some really interesting finds! The first was this mining claim for Talc Queen No. 3, dated August 15, 1940. Did a little digging (no pun intended) and ran across these entries in a 1940 census: 

George W. Koest (miner), 46, born in Pennsylvania
Edith Lockhart (owner), 50, born in Sweden

The tin was tucked in a cairn. I documented it, replaced it and covered it better to shield it from the weather and vandals.

In order to stake a claim, they had to do it literally, by demarcating the borders of the claim with claim markers, such as the one above. The note was stored in the tin cans nailed to the top of the post. Ingenious, really. 

Below are images of some of the mines in the area. The headframe for one was still intact and standing. Standing over an open shaft. Actually two of the mines I visited on this trip had open vertical mine shafts. Not a place you’d want to be staggering around in the dark when nature calls…

And the final discovery for this trip really cooked my noodle for a bit. Could not figure out what the heck it was. I came across it on a canyon side while following a game trail. It was obviously not natural and on a steep slope. Who in their right mind would build something like this in the middle of nowhere?

Then it hit me: it was a Coso hunting blind, built anywhere from 300-1000 years ago. Pretty awesome. 

Cave Discovery and Traces of Ancient Peoples

There is considerable back story to how I ended up locating this site. I’d recommend anyone not familiar with my previous adventure out on Lee Flat to read that first for context:

I went back up to my petroglyph find this past weekend determined to further explore the area, convinced there must be something of significance there. The ancient peoples didn’t casually create petroglyphs as they traveled their territory. Typically the art is found at important water sources or places of shamanic significance, fertility sites, etc.

I skirted the dry fall I had stopped at the first visit. There indeed is a sink up there that would have allowed some water to collect after rainfall but it wasn’t a large one.

Pushing further up, I navigated around another three dry falls, detouring to promising basalt outcrops to check for petroglyphs but didn’t turn up any further rock art.

Rounding a slight bend in the tiny canyon, however, I spotted an opening in the rock. And there it was: a cave no more than ten feet deep with low stacked stone walls outside to break the wind and smoke stains thick on the back third of the ceiling.

The floor was thick with undisturbed dirt that had drifted in over time and pack rats had built a palatial nest at the very back of the cave.

There was no evidence that anyone had been there in a very long time. It’s such an out-of-the-way spot with no geological features of significance, I doubt anyone has ventured to it in all this time. It was random chance that caused me to stumble across the petroglyphs in the first place, and the cave requires a good hike up the canyon.

Still, I thought, it could be comparatively modern. Maybe some hiker had camped here years ago. There wasn’t anything to suggest otherwise, really.

A glitter on the ground caught my eye. I bent down and lifted the object. It was a nearly pristine obsidian arrowhead. I stared at it, heart racing. Here was the proof it was indeed an ancient site. Searching around I found two other pieces of rock that appeared to have tool marks on them.

I carefully replaced the artifacts, did a little happy dance and set off for Saline Valley and more adventure.