Gary Collins of BLM’s Craig office creates new discovery chest to help teach archeology |

Gary Collins of BLM’s Craig office creates new discovery chest to help teach archeology

Stromatolite, fossils and ancient people were topics of the field lecture presented by Gary Collins, BLM archeological technician, at a recent event in Sand Wash Basin, about 45 miles west of Craig.
Sasha Nelson

— His classroom is a wind-swept, dusty wild country, filled with history left by more than 400 generations of human habitation.

It’s a big country and it has inspired Gary Collins to explore Moffat County, through the past 40 years of his life, deepening his understanding of primitive people and their ways.

Learning from professionals, books and his explorations led Collins to take on the role of archeological technician for the Bureau of Land Management’s Little Snake Field Office in Craig, a position he’s held for the past 17 years.

The job requires Collins to survey public lands that are being developed for a any number of uses including for pipeline right of ways, oil and gas well pads, roads and areas where wind, water and time have revealed new finds reported by visitors.

“Whenever the ground is going to be disturbed the ground needs to be inspected to ensure archeological resources are not destroyed,” he said.

It is against the law for Collins, or any federal archeologist, to divulge the location of finds. The sometimes-secretive work carried out in places rarely visited suits the soft-spoken Collins who initially was slightly reluctant to teach.

“He has devoted a large portion of his life trying to educate the public, giving the community a great gift in telling of the past of ancient man in this area,” said Sam Johnson retired science teacher. ”He’s done more for education than the average person and deeply cares about it.”

The support of more experienced teachers helped Collins to become comfortable sharing his knowledge of area archeology and geology in the field.

This year he has presented to the Colorado Archeological Society’s Vermillion Creek Chapter, Craig Middle School sixth grade classes, Preserving the Last Frontier as well as with and for colleagues at the BLM.

Most recently, he spoke to participants of the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary’s Sand Wash Basin Advocates Third Annual Rendezvous.

He spoke about the treasures of Sand Wash Basin, including some of the world’s largest giant, round balls of stromatolite fossils.

Ancient chert mines that produced tiger chert highly valued and traded throughout North America by generations of native peoples from the Clovis to the Utes, believes Collins.

With only about 2 percent of public lands in Moffat County surveyed for cultural artifacts, the potential for new discoveries is behind every sagebrush. In fact, Collins departed the rendezvous early to survey a potential new find.

“Discovery is very possible,” he said. “When you are out here if you see anything take a picture, use a pen, a sock something to provide a sense of scale. GPS it if you can and then leave it; it is illegal to collect fossils and archeology.”

There is poignancy to Collins warnings as he has personally witnessed some of Northwest Colorado’s largest natural history collections littered across the Moffat County Landfill.

“What’s left out here is just a remnant of what was here before,” he said.

Inspiring the younger generation to steward the land and its history motivated Collins to create a new Discovery Chest with a focus on the prehistoric people of Northwest Colorado.

The chest is filled with replica primitive tools, lesson plans, videos and other resources that are all available for area educators to use free of charge to supplement curriculum.

The Stone Age tools, made by modern experts, from natural materials have been used by Collins for the hands-on learning demonstrations he’s been providing for the last two decades.

The creative and engaging lessons are a way to “instill respect when they are young,” he said and he has seen the community embrace rather than deface the ancient legacy left from the people of the past.

Support to create the chest was provided by the Colorado Archeological Society, the Craig Chamber of Commerce and the BLM. To reserve the chest contact Gary Collins at 970-826-5101.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.

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