When vacation time rolls around, Mary Ann Gabriel sets off for the canyons and mountains of Colorado for adventures as a volunteer archaeologist.
The Indiana Jones bug bit her about eight years ago, when she first participated in a U.S. Forest Service program that uses volunteers for everything from digging up dinosaur bones to repairing historical cabins.
In the Picketwire Canyonlands south of La Junta, her sketches of rock art were published as part of the archaeological records of the area.
In the foothills of the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, she helped find prehistoric tools and points in an area that may have been inhabited by humans 9,000 years ago.
At the Grand Canyon, she helped survey a series of ancient fortlike structures along the rim and stayed in an old Forest Service cabin.
Gabriel - an elementary school reading specialist in Douglas County - now tries to squeeze in three or four archaeological projects each year.
"I like the learning, first of all," she said. "I like the fact that archaeologists respect me and teach me more so I can provide more help. We're really working. We're not just out there on a little guided tour."
The Forest Service program, Passport in Time, relies on volunteers to assist hundreds of archaeology and historic-preservation projects throughout the country.
The Forest Service gives each PIT volunteer a "passport," which the project leader at each site stamps, documenting the volunteer's work hours.
PIT volunteers have helped stabilize cliff dwellings in New Mexico, repair a lookout tower in Oregon and unearth a 10,000-year-old village in Minnesota.
In Colorado alone, volunteers will be working on 10 projects this year, from surveying ancient rock art to recording artifacts of a camp town built in the last days of railroad logging.
Four projects lie in the Pike and San Isabel national forests: hunting for prehistoric stone tools and mining artifacts near Guanella Pass; restoring the Iron City cemetery; surveying a 19th-century mountain railroad route over Marshall Pass; and fixing up the once-elegant Dexter Cabin at Twin Lakes.
Volunteers for the cabin project get daily boat rides across a reservoir shaded by Colorado's highest mountain range.
"A good thing we found last year at Guanella was an old smelter site" for gold and silver, said Allen Kainite, Pike-San Isabel's forest archaeologist. "A lot of this stuff is pretty remote and has never been looked at. It's like Indiana Jones, right?"
As a veteran volunteer, Gabriel said she has has come to know the "Passport in Time groupies," who are retired "and are able to do it virtually year-round."
She enjoys "the camaraderie of the people who do this," the thrill of finding ancient things and the special access that comes with the passport.
"I spend a week at a time in an area that other people get to spend a couple of hours in. I'm doing real, real work," she said. "I like it. My son can't understand it."
Staff writer David Olinger can be reached at 303-820-1498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source Citation:"Teacher becomes Indiana Jones on break As part of the Forest Service's Passport in Time program, volunteers assist with historic-preservation and archaeology projects." The Denver Post (Denver, CO) (June 6, 2006): B-05. General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 5 Oct. 2009
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