Coyote Springs is located centrally in Tule Valley, which is about forty miles long and fifteen miles wide, squared off at the north end and tapering away over the last fifteen or so miles to a blunt point at the southern end. The House Range and the Confusion Range bracket the valley to the east and west respectively. Delta, Utah is about 50 miles east of the Springs, and the Nevada border is about 30 miles to the west.
Brilliant white salt flats curve along the base of the House Range -- the dregs of Tule Lake. I might point out that this is not the California Tule Lake, site of one of the infamous Japanese Relocation Camps from World War II. The Utah camp, Topaz, was near here, though - - about twelve miles WNW of Delta -- forty miles to the east of Coyote Springs. There's very little left there -- somehow we seem a little reluctant to preserve that evidence of prejudice.
Utah's Tule Lake was a remnant of Lake Bonneville, left after the lake level fell and cut it off. For a few thousand years it filled much of the valley, but as the climate warmed and rainfall decreased, it evaporated away, leaving salt and sediment behind. Sites like that at Coyote Springs suggest that for several thousand years people camped along the lake shore, near marshy areas where plant food and game were plentiful. Now the valley is little used, except by an occasional sheep rancher. It's too far from cities, over rugged, desolate terrain, with too little to offer to attract much attention.
Sandy clay and gravel cover most of the surface. Salt-tolerant vegetation like greasewood and pickleweed carpet the valley with a faded, dusty green, stretching away to the foothills of the dark mountains that form the horizon on all sides. Though much of the terrain consists of low ridges and washes, it looks flat -- the sameness of that dry green serving to camouflage all irregularities. Higher elevations have sagebrush replacing the rabbitbrush and greasewood -- less salt, so the sagebrush can grow there, but the distinction is moot until you're right on top of them -- the colors are so nearly the same that, from even a few yards, they are the same.
The tamarisk bushes -- they don't grow big enough to be trees -- that grow sparsely in the wetter areas of the valley are brown-quilled emerald plumes with a blush of tiny pink blossoms here and there along the edges. Yet they blend in too. Knowing where the dunes that mark the site are, it's still hard to pick them out from camp. Even the bright greens of the marsh plants around the springs get lost in the vastness of it all. One cluster of features is visible in this sameness -- near the springs, a couple of miles away, a small island of hills rises up: Coyote Knolls, their slopes black with crumbled basalt caprock. We camped at the base of the knolls, on the southwest side.
This is a lonely place. Certainly it was more attractive back when there was enough rainfall to keep the lake filled, but it still retains an austere beauty today. There's a vastness to it that the surrounding mountains fail to break. Somehow they don't hem the valley in -- they're the ends of the earth. There is shape to them, edges, in a land with few visible edges beyond the immediate rocks and bushes. They draw your eyes up, to the bands of rock strata, and to the ridgelines and peaks. It becomes easy to understand why lonely men all over the West immortalized Molly (whoever she may have been) by giving her name to almost every likely shaped pair of mountain peaks in sight. There are dozens of such sets of peaks in Utah alone, all named Molly's Tits. A likely looking pair grace the eastern horizon here too, the bands of strata fortuitously placed to enhance the illusion.
There is other life out here, though not often glimpsed during the day. We found coyote and antelope tracks down by the springs, in addition to the ubiquitous wild horse tracks. I startled a jackrabbit out of the grasses near the springs one day, and I've already mentioned the kangaroo rats caught in our headlights. We learned to be careful about reaching under things or when picking up things that had lain out overnight; several scorpions were found in such circumstances.
And one lonely rattlesnake, all of about a foot long, made the mistake of approaching the tent of one of our college students. There was, I am ashamed to report, no memorial service held for the snake.
The third day we were there, I heard a commotion outside the mess tent during breakfast. People were oooooing and ahhhing at something, so I stepped out to take a look. Off to the east, like a brown flotilla in that dusty green sea, a stallion led a foal and three mares away from the springs. We watched as they jogged to the northeast, until they were lost in the green that swallows all other colors. It was like they vanished into a mist.
"See?" I said to Julia after they were gone, "Wild horses can drag me away from the table." Then I went back inside and finished my breakfast.
|Intro||Getting there||The crew||Surveying the site||tent city||The dig|