email a friend iconprinter friendly iconAncient Fremont
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In 2001, at the age of 71, he sold his ranch to the Trust for Public Lands. Waldo's wife had never much liked her remote home, and he had seen no way to divide the ranch fairly among his grown children. With heavy heart, Waldo moved into a boxy little house in nearby Green River.

The next summer, archaeologists got their first look at Range Creek. They were overwhelmed by what they found: arrowheads, potsherds, beads, grinding stones, rock art, granaries on high ledges, and rings of stones, the remnants of buried pit houses—all this, the work of the Fremont, farmers and hunter-gatherers who had lived there a thousand years ago and more.

Unlike many ranchers in the American West, for whom collecting prehistoric treasure was a customary hobby, Waldo had left virtually every artifact undisturbed. "I won't lie to you," Waldo says. "I picked up arrowheads, 'cause if I didn't, somebody else would. But I never dug anything up. Maybe I'm superstitious, but I figured them Indians wanted the stuff left there." About human remains, the rancher was particularly circumspect: "I don't want some damned hippie digging up my body after I die."

Last year at a meeting in Salt Lake City, Kevin Jones, the official Utah state archaeologist, said Range Creek was the best protected area he'd ever seen. "And the great irony," he said, "is that it was protected by a single private owner, not by all the laws that we've passed to preserve our cultural heritage."

Because of the canyon's riches Range Creek was kept secret for three years after Waldo sold it. But when a local newspaper leaked the story in 2004, a nasty controversy erupted. Powerful lobbyists for sportsmen's groups that had helped raise the money to buy the ranch insisted the canyon, now owned by the state of Utah, remain open to big-game hunting and trout fishing. Some even recommended clearing piñon and juniper trees to improve the reserve for wildlife. Native Americans were furious that the archaeologists had been invited into Range Creek before they knew of it. In the end, a number of tribes claimed ancestral affiliation, sight unseen, with the canyon, and Native American spokesmen demanded they be consulted about its future.

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