How did this all begin?
–Cliff Creger, Nevada Department of Transportation
–Jim Carter, Bureau of Land Management, Carson City District
Afternoon of May 16, 2008
We think it was in a BLM rig, but we might have been bouncing back from Bunejug Mountain toward Carson City in that old orange NDOT pick-up that has been around for decades. We had just visited a dune site and were trying to think of ways to bring information on that archaeological site to the public. As we turned onto Highway 50, we passed the BLM Grimes Point Archaeological Area that includes Hidden Cave. The spark was lit. It probably only took us 20 minutes from that moment to ballpark a full concept. Since we were near Fallon, we decided to pull in at the Churchill County Museum and talk with Jane Pieplow about it.
Trying to be creative, do better archaeology, and reach the public with better technology had been on our minds for a while. Cliff had enlisted the use of NDOT LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging; an optical form of remote sensing) to create a three-dimensional recordation of a collapsed Virginia & Truckee Railroad tunnel about a year earlier, and we had applied LiDAR technology to record the walls of the Ophir Assay Office in Washoe Valley earlier in the spring.
In the truck cab, Cliff had the crazy idea that we could do a better job of documenting Hidden Cave with this technology. Jim wanted a Hi-Definition video to replace the one created in the mid-1980s. Since David Hurst Thomas did the excavations, he should be the one talking about the site. We would have to clean the cave (it was visited by thousands of people every year and needed a clean-up), film it, LiDAR it, and have someone better than us do the production. We would want the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe involved in anything produced. By the time we walked in to talk to Jane, the director at the museum, several ideas were on our minds. All lacked funding. All involved lots of other people. She was the first one we asked to help, and we likely would not have gotten any further without her support.
But Jane liked the idea of a new video of Hidden Cave. She encouraged us to ask Dave Thomas at the American Museum of Natural History to be on camera, and Mark Gandolfo at University of Nevada to do the filming. She was very interested in the three-dimensional aspect as an interactive educational tool, and she saw how it could potentially be a valuable research tool.
This was a crucial point for us in our nascent, 40-minute-old, project brainstorming event. And it moved fast—with many hiccups—from the very beginning. As we completed our drive to Carson City, we talked through the major points of the idea and set our minds to getting to work. Within a week, the three of us had discussed potential script questions and Jane had contacted Mark: he had been looking for a community partner project and was very interested in the project. Gene Hattori at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City also was interested. Jane was essential in the concept moving to reality because of her experience with video projects and with knowing what would work with the public and what wouldn’t.
July 15, 2008
By chance, Dave Thomas was coming to central Nevada that summer to do field research and wanted to take some of his students to Hidden Cave. He and several students visited the cave, the dune site near Bunejug Mountains, and the Grimes Point petroglyph site. Jim brought up the idea of re-filming Hidden Cave, and Dave liked the idea. If BLM could find the money for the plane ticket from New York to Reno, and Jim bought him a burger and a beer, he would be there.
November 22, 2008
After conferring with the State Historic Preservation Office and with Donna Cassette with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe, BLM took on the task of spiffing up the cave. Since the only other cleanup of the cave was in 1997, a few non-essential items had been added to the interior of the cave. Working with Eric Ingbar, one of the crew chiefs on the Hidden Cave excavation in 1980, Jim, Eric, and six other archaeologists removed trash from the shadows and below the boardwalks; dusted and replaced “jewel” tags and labels; and vacuumed enough dust to destroy a brand new dry vac. Thanks to these volunteers, Hidden Cave was prepared for any documentation that followed.
The project hit a few snags.
Our attempts at grant funding through the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures and Preservation Technology and Training programs both fail. Due to a competing project, the State Historic Preservation Office could not sponsor Hidden Cave as a possible Preserve America grant project for 2009. A first attempt at a BLM one-time special funding request was not financed.
In addition, both Jim and Jane were diagnosed with cancer. Cliff explains his feelings like this:
“In all honesty, my motivation at going on with the project had little to do with archaeology, public eduction, or LiDAR; it had everything to do with distracting a friend during a hard time he was having. One of those, ‘look over here’ sort of things that might just make a few moments of his near future just a tad brighter. “
The first funding for the project came in. Cliff was able to obtain $15,000 of NDOT grant monies and had Sean McDaniels and his crew shoots LiDAR both inside and outside of the cave. Although technically a data cloud, these were stitched into the first new images for the project!
After a year and half of aggressive treatment, Jim was back to work full-time.
December 15, 2010
Unfortunately, Jane’s health was not improving, and she sends her resignation to the Churchill County Commissioners. She was unable to continue any work on the project and passed away in September 2011.
This video would not have happened without her.