Heritage, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 1997 Page: 10
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Picking at the Bend of the River:
Cultural Resource Investigations Along the Colorado
By Dan K. Utley
riving into the Muleshoe Bend
Primitive Recreation Area of
far western Travis County, visitors
have a sense this is untamed land - an
oasis of wilderness not far from the urban
development of Austin. Rocky-strewn hillsides
cloaked in pockets of grass, prickly
pear, and scrub brush are guarded only
sparsely by oaks, junipers, pecans, and mesquite.
Stilled waters of Lake Travis run
slowly through the heart of the country,
masking meanders of the Colorado River
that carved the surrounded valley and
cradled places like Muleshoe Bend. It would
take an imagination wilder than the surrounding
land to believe it was ever anything
other than what is now visible -
hardscrabble Hill Country best suited to
the production of goats, sheep, or cattle.
Well hidden beneath the native vegetation,
however, are the unmistakable vestiges
of cultural settlement. Some are re
cent in origin: concrete cisterns, foundation
stones, glass and ceramic sherds, and
metal fragments. In places, these artifacts
of early 20th century habitation are mixed
with elements of the prehistoric past -
mostly fragmented flakes of flint and chert
- reminders of the real estate adage that a
good location is a good location. These
mixed cultural deposits are evidence of a
continuum that reaches from the ancient
people who used the river as a corridor for
hunting and gathering to the current visitors
who come for the purpose of recreation.
Were it not for the role archaeology plays
in the identification, analysis, and protection
of such sites, the cultural chain could
have been broken long ago. Archaeology is
an integral part of state and federal mandates
that public agencies such as the Lower Colorado
River Authority must follow to manage
the cultural resources found on the proper
ties they control. As caretaker of public
lands, the LCRA has to take into account
how its activities might affect important
resources, both cultural and natural. When
planning for development, steps have to be
taken to avoid certain resources, or otherwise
mitigate impact to them, in order to aid
in their protection. With cultural features,
archaeology is the key to identification and
evaluation, thus enabling sound decisionmaking
in the planning process.
The essential foundation of any agency's
cultural resource management plan is a
comprehensive archaeological survey of the
property. In most cases, such surveys are
conducted by a team of archaeologists who
systematically walk the land looking for
signs of cultural presence. In the course of
their work, they might make small "shovel
probes" of high probability areas to determine
the location and depth of deposits.
Where they determine the presence of a
10 HERITAGE *WINTER 1997
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 1997, periodical, Winter 1997; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45400/m1/10/: accessed October 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.