Trailmaster Craig Martin Discusses Tree Carvings

Local trailmaster Craig Martin spoke recently at the Rotary Club of Los Alamos, describing the historical significance of the tree carvings at the Valles Caldera. Appearing in the soft wood of aspen trees, one carving dates to the 1890s, with most created by sheep herders between 1914 and the 1940s. The carvings reflect the importance of sheep herding in the wool and mutton economy of that time period in northern New Mexico. There is an ongoing effort to document the carvings, which contain names, dates, initials, and pictorial figures, such as hearts and portraits, before they are further endangered by elk, fire, lightning, aging, and insects. With at least 50 volunteers dedicating over 4,000 hours of time, the project team has recorded over 2,000 tree carvings with the names of more than 200 different individuals. Data sheets record the GPS location of each tree carved with a photograph and sketch, as well each carving’s dimensions and cardinal direction. The meadow edges near desirable grassland grazing has shifted over time, so carved trees are generally found along the old meadows’ edges. Colleen Olinger and the late Dorothy Hoard are two who also have given long hours to this project. Photo by Linda Hull

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