Wilderness Volunteers recently finished a service project in the Dark Canyon Wilderness of the Manti La Sal National Forest in southeastern Utah.

The Dark Canyon Wilderness is a spectacular canyon wilderness in southeastern Utah that was the ancestral home of Puebloan peoples for 5,000 years. Dark Canyon is rich in biological, geological, archaeological, and historical significance, and is also one of the most colorful canyon systems on the Colorado Plateau.

Dark Canyon begins on Elk Ridge at an elevation of 8,800 feet then cuts through Cedar Mesa sandstone formations dramatically framed amidst a forest of ponderosa pine on its 5,000-foot descent to the upper reaches of Lake Powell. It is remote and spectacularly beautiful.

At various times residents of the canyon hunted on the mesa tops, grew maize, squash and beans on canyon terraces, gathered pinyon nuts on the plateaus, and hunted turkey and deer in the high ponderosa pine forests.

They built cliff-dwellings and grain storage warehouses, made pottery in a variety of styles, and fashioned tools from the mineral resources of the canyon.

As part of our ongoing project with the Manti-La Sal National Forest, participants backpacked into the area and then worked with Forest Service archaeologists to survey remote parts of the Dark Canyon system for artifacts and ancestral sites.

They split into small teams, each led by an archaeologist, and slowly walked the canyon looking for stone tools and flakes, projectile points, pot sherds and the remains of ancient structures.

Forest Service staff provided participants with training on how stone tools and artifacts were made, the different styles of tools and pottery used, and how to find artifacts and document the sites where they are found.

The training included a demonstration of the art of “flint knapping” – the fabrication of tools and projectile points from stone – that gave participants insight into the things to look for and the types of tools that can be made from stone.

This year’s project was extremely fruitful: participants surveyed over 353 acres, recorded 5 sites, and identified 14 new sites.

Want to give something back with Wilderness Volunteers in the Dark Canyon Wilderness?

The Summer and Fall 2017 projects will be released on our website December 1, 2016.

All of the stunning photos in this post were taken by Dark Canyon participant Brandon Jett.