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Archaeology of Old Man Mountain


Hundreds of artifacts have been found spanning thousands of years on Old Man Mountain in Estes Park, Colorado, USA. According to James Benedict's Old Man Mountain: A Vision Quest Site in the Colorado High Country, pottery sherds found on the mountain from several different tribes document ritual use of the site at least 800 years ago. Weathering of river boulders shows that they were first carried up the mountain, probably for sweat lodges used in vision questing, at least 3,000 years ago. And arrowheads found there are likely around 5800 years old. An additional artifact has been radiocarbon-dated to 10,000 years old. Stones left as offerings come from lands as far as three hundred miles away.

The name "Old Man" is a mistranslation of the Arapaho name "Sitting Man," which probably referred to people sitting in vision quests.

I attended a lecture James Benedict gave, in which he said he could feel the power of the mountain, and that's why he decided to dig there! At that lecture, Benedict said that Old Man Mountain is one of the two or three most important vision quest sites in the U.S., from an archeological perspective.

I've heard that Rocky Mountain National Park has some of the artifacts at their headquarters, but most they gave to their summer rangers decades ago as souvenirs. You're unlikely to find artifacts there now. But you can see from the top how Old Man is like a gateway to the high peaks from the valley, along the Old Ute Trail. Fall River flows at the mountain's base, with plenty of room for ancient camps in the beautiful valley there.

Benedict's book is out of print. But if you plan to visit Old Man Mountain, you might wish to stop by the Estes Valley Library and check out this short book, or read the copy that stays there. The book has a map of where the most artifacts have been found on the mountain. The libary is at 335 E Elkhorn Ave. in Estes Park, on the east end of the municipal building, which is across the street from Bond Park. If you're coming up from the plains, the entrance is just past the major intersection of Hwy 34 and Hwy 36 on Hwy 34 which is Elkhorn Ave. Just past a large bank's parking lot on your right, is a large parking lot with the library's entrance at the far end.



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© Cathee Courter and Peter MacGill, photos and text.

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