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Highway 550 Excavations

La Plata County, Colorado

In 2009, Alpine Archaeological Consultants, working with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), detected Ancestral Pueblo villages south of Durango in the proposed 2-mile realignment of Highway 550. CDOT planned to reroute that section of the highway across Florida Mesa to avoid the steep and dangerous Farmington Hill and to connect the Durango’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” at the junction of Highways 550 and 160.

Based on nearby archaeological finds, archaeologists suspected that Florida Mesa would be rich in archaeology, and surveys proved them right. However, the extent and preservation of those remains was a surprise to all.

In 2018 and 2019, under the direction of Rand Greubel of Alpine Archaeology Consultants, Inc., excavated a vast expanse of three ruins and four limited activity sites built by Ancestral Pueblo Indians around the year 800. They unearthed ceremonial structures, large pit houses, storage rooms and the refuse the inhabitants left behind.

University of New Mexico osteologist Dr. Robin Cordero said he had never seen an open-air site so well preserved—preservation that he attributes to the type of soil in the area. Among the materials recovered were beads made from shells traded from northern Mexico and tiny fish bones.

Former State Archaeologist Dr. Richard Wilshusen posits that the excavations uncovered the first attempts of Native Americans settling into villages. “It’s the beginning of something that we see several hundred years later in the larger villages out in Mesa Verde or Sand Canyon.”

Photos generously provided by Alpine Archaeology Consultants, LLC.


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