“There are actually two Mesa Verdes. The one people think of is the national park containing cliff dwellings and surface ruins built by people that have come to be known as Ancestral Puebloans. The other Mesa Verde includes the World National Heritage Site but extends well beyond that. It is a vast flat-topped land-form dressed in pinyon and juniper forests interspersed with finger canyons.”
Fred Blackburn, author of The Wetherills, Friends of Mesa Verde, is an independent guide, author, and contractor responsible for organizing the donation of Wetherill family collections to the Anasazi Heritage Center. He serves as historian / author / liaison between the Wetherill family and the Anasazi Heritage Center in Cortez, Colorado, a volunteer role.
“Exploration and removal of artifacts began at least as early as 1861 when prospector T. Stangl carved his name on a cliff wall above Bone Awl House. It would be 20 years before the Wetherill family would arrive and begin exploring the surroundings of their new home in Mancos Valley.”
“As a ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in southeast Utah’s Grand Gulch, I was assigned to protect cultural and natural resources on 3.5 million acres of public lands, a portion of which was designated in 2017 as the Bears Ears National Monument. I struggled initially, having first to re-educate myself in what that meant. Slowly and painfully, I changed my values from believing in the collection of antiquities to disapproving of removing artifacts from their original location.”
“I viewed remnants of camps left in alcoves by intrepid explorers: tin cans, bullet casings, wooden dried apple boxes, Dutch ovens, horseshoes, and harness leather left where explorers or cowboys stored, cached, or abandoned them. Thirty-two years later, historic and prehistoric remnants have disappeared from that landscape. The artifacts that so captivated me have been hauled away by those who degrade the outdoor museum through their selfish need to possess bits and pieces of the past, leaving nothing to teach those who follow about the people who inhabited these lands centuries ago.
“My efforts currently focus on the preservation and donation, to a qualified Four Corners Institution, of my extensive archives. I have worked for the past two years, much at my own expense and the generous donations of friends and researchers, to archive, inventory and prepare for a transfer to the appropriate institution over 50 years of collected photographs, documents, journals, reports and writing. My hope is to provide further protection to the areas of my research through unrestricted information. You can follow these efforts on my GoFundMe page.” — Fred Blackburn
About Fred Blackburn:
Fred began his career in southeastern Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, as the first ranger for the Grand Gulch ranger program in 1974. In 1979-81 he helped establish the Crow Canyon archaeological center, then returned to Utah to aid in establishing the White Mesa Institute at the College of Eastern Utah. That effort produced the innovative Wetherill / Grand Gulch research project, a four-year volunteer effort from 1986-90 culminating in the first conference strictly devoted to Ancestral Puebloan Basketmaker culture and its first recognition by the Wetherill family.
Fred has researched and written extensively about the late 19th century archaeological explorations of the Four Corners. His contribution to other texts include “Handwriting on the Wall” in Anasazi Basketmaker, a synopsis of journal and reverse archaeology in Utah’s Grand Gulch and historic inscriptions and the first recorded visits to Balcony House in A History of a Cliff Dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, by Kathleen Fiero. His most recent collaboration was writing the text for Sacred Places of the Southwest with photographer Claus Mroczynski. This coffee table book is receiving international recognition. With Dr. Ray Williamson he co-authored Cowboys and Cave Dwellers, reviewing early archaeological explorations in the Grand Gulch and Mesa Verde region. (Some of these can be purchased in the Books section.)
Fred completed a major research manuscript for Mesa Verde National Park titled “Historical Inscriptions and the Expeditionary History of Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Hemenway House, Little Hemenway House, Honeymoon House and Spruce Tree House: A History of Discovery, Exploration, Photography, and Documentation”. He utilizes historical or ancestral inscriptions as a primary research reference. His collaboration with Wetherill Family members, and his extensive knowledge of the terrain and archaeology of the Four Corners serves him well in the organization of special field programs designed by request. Fred holds a biological science degree and secondary science education certificate from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.
Fred was asked to complete a publication based on his extensive Inscription research completed in Mesa Verde National Park as a portion of the “Save Americas Treasure Grant”. The Mesa Verde National Park Centennial was celebrated by “The Wetherills: Friends of Mesa Verde” publication.
Fred has more than 40 years of research, backcountry expedition, and interpretive experience.
- Retired Secondary Science Instructor
- Published Author of Area History and Archaeology
- Birder; arranges individualized birding tours in southwest Colorado
- Researcher; offering volunteer opportunities in ongoing archaeological research
- Works with licensed outfitters and institutions to provide specially tailored cultural and natural history tours of the Southwest