Thursday, September 07, 2006

Honeybee, Adieu

When I first moved here from Chicago, 12+ years ago, I had rather dewy-eyed notions of the West and its open spaces, namely, that preservation was a priority. Ha. Hoo ha ha. Honeybee Canyon was opened to development within a week of my arrival, and the stucco-and-red-tile-roofed menace has since spread over huge tracts of formerly open desert and grassland north and northwest of Tucson.

Zip forward to yesterday. One of the few remaining undeveloped parcels near Honeybee, within the boundaries of the monstrous Rancho Vistoso development, is slated for its own batch of cookie-cutter houses in the near future. The builder of these, however, finds archaeology interesting rather than simply inconvenient, and, since his parcel sits gobsmack on top of a large Hohokam village, he donated 13 acres in the center as an archaeological preserve. My company is excavating the houses and trash mounds surrounding this central area (for nice photos and descriptions of Hohokam pithouses, please read Homer's post).

Several of us toured the site yesterday. It was simultaneously fascinating and utterly depressing. Fascinating because of the hundreds of houses, some with thickly plastered floors still intact. Utterly depressing because it's going to be bladed within the year, the thousand-year-old houses replaced with as many slapdash frame-and-stucco clone houses as can be crammed into the space.

The ridgetop the site sits on overlooks a wide valley holding the main drainage from the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The pithouses near the center of the site are arranged in small courtyard groups, with the entryways facing in to the common space they shared. The pithouses on the edge of the ridge, though, all face out to the breathtaking view of the valley below, with its streamcourse, rocky outcrops, and saguaros marching up the foothills toward the mountains. Of course, the view now also includes roads bladed into the sides of the foothills to reach house lots bladed onto the hilltops, footprints of the march of the rich and influential to see who can get the site the farthest up the mountain before the national forest starts and physics make construction prohibitive. All for the vacation house that's lived in a month or two out of the year, but wrecks the view year-round.

I'm a bit cynical (shocking, yes) about the future of the central preserve. It was difficult yesterday to walk without stepping on artifacts. Seriously. Potsherds and stone flakes and groundstone tools are everywhere on the ground. Our instinct, thanks to our training as archaeologists, is to step around them, looking but not touching, or, if we pick something up to examine it more closely, putting it back exactly where it was rather than stuffing our pockets. The people who will be moving into the houses to be built here will not, I'm guessing, have the same scruples. Kids are going to pick up everything they find--not that I blame them; I couldn't resist arrowheads on the ground when I was a kid either--and I'd wager that more than a few of their parents will venture into the preserve at night and take a shovel to a trash mound in search of treasure. The standing stone walls of a compound at the center of the preserve will probably be augmented by well-meaning amateur reconstructionists. Coffee tables and mantels throughout the place will end up holding people's souvenirs; even though residents will likely be strongly cautioned against spoiling the preserve, the thousands of artifacts on the ground will make it hard for people to resist taking just one or two or a dozen.

All of this gone for a rabbit warren of crap houses and lousy traffic. And none of them will give a shit about what was destroyed so they can live in a house exactly like their neighbors' and exactly like any number of houses across the way in Continental Ranch, or in the upcoming Homes At Red Rock, or in Gilbert, or in Mesa, or in Anthem. What the hell. At least they won't need to ask where the bathroom is when they visit each other.

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