[Photos removed. Sorry]
Recently I've been working in northern Nevada, somewhere between Idaho, Arizona, Utah, and California (I learned my lesson with the Tonopah post!). The project is a survey of just over 5000 acres for a mining company. There has already been heavy mining in the area that dates back over 100 years.
I wanted to talk a little about the survey that we are doing and what someone can expect in these types of areas. The elevation is between 5000 ft MSL and 6000 ft MSL. There are no trees or tall vegetation; just sagebrush and other small plants. We are doing block survey which means that we have a massive block of land (with weird boundaries because they are never a straight line) that we are walking over in 30 m transect intervals. Some companies do "flag and run" survey where they flag sites when they find them, take a point with the GPS, and continue surveying. They like to do this so they know how many sites they have to record and can better update the client with a completion time. This company is having us record as we go. I don't mind doing it that way on this project because it breaks up the very hilly survey. It's nice to have a break. It must make it somewhat difficult to determine how long the project will take, though.
It's surprising how few prehistoric artifacts we have found. They must have been out here at various times over the past 12,000 years or more. The majority of what we find are shallow prospect pits and mining claim cairns. Prospect pits are usually less than a meter deep and are typically about 3-5 meters in diameter. There are larger ones and smaller ones, of course, and some are in the shape of a trench. Some of the shallow pits may be the result of some early laws in Nevada mining rather than the search for minerals. At one point (I don't know when or for how long) a prospector had to actually break ground on a claim to make it valid. You couldn't just make claims all over the place and never go out and explore them. The mining claim cairns (pronounced with one syllable, not two) are where copies of the claim papers are actually kept. They are usually just a pile of 20-30 rocks piled up around a 4x4 in post with a container nailed to the side near the top. The container is often an upright pocket tobacco tin (UPTT) or some other can that has been modified to hold papers. Sometimes we still find the papers intact and legible. Last week we found one dated to 1935 (I think, it's around 1935 anyway). Prospectors, including massive international mining companies, still have to put up their claim posts. Although now they just pound a 1 x 1 inch post in the ground and attached a film canister to the top that contains the papers.
With all of the heavy prospecting and mining activity it makes the survey go pretty slow. My crew of four (including me) is covering about 1200-1600 meters (two sets of transects, one out and one back) in a day. That is a pretty small distance for survey. The problem is that we run into a prospect pit or a cairn, or both about every 100 meters or less. In Nevada, two artifacts or features or a combination of the two, is a site. If we have a cairn and a pit, that's a site. If we have a pit and a can, that's a site. If we have a cairn and a can, wait, that might not be a site. If the can has a nail hole in it and looks like it could have been nailed to the cairn then it gets recorded as an isolated feature wit the cairn. You have to pay attention to the small details sometimes.
The mining stuff can get a little tedious but for the most part I love working up here. The entire Nevada mining operation is fascinating to me. I can't imagine the hardships and the struggles that those early pioneers went through to get out into some of these areas in search of fortune and glory. It takes us about 75 minutes to get to our project area from the nearest town with a hotel and that's doing 80 mph! The living conditions, clothing, and equipment 100+ years ago would have made doing even the simplest of tasks difficult. I have to admire them for that, at least.
Just as a carrot to dangle in front of anyone reading this from the rest of the U.S., the temps have already started to fall here. We may be having our last days in the 90's next week and could possibly get snow in some parts of the state as early as a month or two from now. Summer comes on pretty suddenly here but leaves just as quickly. The mornings are chilly and the afternoons are pleasant right now. Come work in the Great Basin! No humidity!
See you in the field.
Written in Battle Mountain, NV: Half way to everywhere (Their slogan, not mine)