Someone once said, "You can't tell a book by its cover." This is certainly true for the "book" of the Pinto Wash area of Joshua Tree National Park. We would imagine that a cover for such a "book" would scream "barren desert." However, we might be very surprised to find that the early chapters would reveal a very different scene. Long ago, the repeated glaciations of the Pleistocene era (1.8 mya to 11,500 ya) created a cool, wet lakeside habitat in which such extinct animals as large and small horse, large llama-like camels, North American llamas, sheep, mammoths and wolves lived and died. Their mineralized bones now write the story of their existence and can be found today in an isolated portion of the Pinto Basin. These fossil bones, however, have lived a hard life and are rarely found intact. Split and slivered fragments that have been wind abraded are the norm. However, we've been wanting to visit this location for quite some time just to stand in the presence of these relics from the past and let our minds drift back to what was going on here a million years ago.
Also, there's another reason for visiting this area. Shortly after the end of the Pleistocene era, as a gradual warming trend began to shrink the marshy lake that once was a major feature of the Pinto Basin, small groups of hunters filtered into the basin and set up primitive camps along the edge of what was now a marshy stream that ran the length of the basin. They hunted relatively modern animals such as tortoises, iguanas, chuckwallas, birds, cottontails, jackrabbits, squirrels, wood rats, coyotes, fox, bobcat and bighorn sheep. Evidence of their dietary habits has been documented by archaeologists who have located their ancient campsites. Also present are lithic scatters from tool and projectile point manufacture. Their very distinctive projectile points were given the name Pinto points and their culture, which flourished from 8,000 to 4,000 years ago, came to be referred to as the Pinto culture. In the early 1930's, Elizabeth and William Campbell were the first to uncover both the fossil bones of large Pleistocene mammals and the cultural remains of the Pinto people. What a double play! Our adventure today is therefore not only going to be a hunt for Pleistocene fossils, but we'll also be on the lookout for rare remains of these now vanished earliest inhabitants of JTNP.
As we shoulder our daypacks this morning, we're joined by Mohave Blake, whose past experience as a geologist is bound to come in handy. Will we be successful in our hunt? You'll just have to click on the photo link below to find out!
(Remember, it's illegal to remove fossils and Indian artifacts; instead, take photographs and bring back memories.)