Museum dedicates new signs, shelter

Freedom New Mexico photo: Karl Terry Mary Ruth Gossett, center, points out a photo of Jim Warnica, right, to Rosemary Mathews of ENMU on one of the new interpretive signs dedicated Friday at the Blackwater Draw Site near Portales.

By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico

Early man and the way he likely lived got a sharper focus at a local National Historic Landmark as new interpretive signs and a group shelter were dedicated Friday.

Representatives from New Mexico State Parks and Eastern New Mexico University came together for the ceremony marking the completion of a three-year, $80,000 cooperative effort to enhance the visitor experience at Blackwater Draw Archaeological Site near Portales.

Officials from the State Parks said with the upgrades the site could see significant use as an outdoor classroom and increase its use by visitors. The site is owned by the university and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

State Parks is particularly interested in Blackwater Draw because of its proximity to Oasis State Park — a mile to the south.

John Montgomery, director of the Agency for Conservation Archaeology at ENMU, recognized State Parks and the New Mexico Legislature for help in accomplishing improvements that ENMU didn’t have the finances to make.

“The grant helps Eastern modernize its presentation and facilities at the site, and recognizes the significance of Blackwater Draw to the citizens of New Mexico,” Montgomery said before ENMU President Steven Gamble presented plaques to State Parks officials.

The work includes a new group shelter in the bottom of the north pit near where archaeologists uncovered the first mammoth bones and artifacts at the site. Officials said the shelter will provide a place for groups on visits of the site to meet.

The work also includes 19 interpretive signs which can be seen by driving the road through the site, or by a hike that takes approximately an hour.

The signs describe how Paleo-Indian groups might have viewed the area as well as timelines and a description of the artifacts that were found in each location.

“They can’t take the artifacts with them, so why not make it interesting,” Site Manager Joanne Dickenson said. “It’ll give you a little story of what might have happened here. It’s pre-history as well as history.”

Amateur archaeologist Jim Warnica, who helped excavate many of the sites at Blackwater Draw, said after the ceremony that it was good to get some state help in preserving and interpreting the sites.

He said the area had changed a lot since his work there and he never dreamed that it would eventually become what it is today. He said the concern was to preserve as much as they could as fast as they could.

“At that time it just seemed like gravel mining was in full swing,” Warnica said. “That’s all we thought about.”

Blackwater Draw Site
Five miles north of Portales on N.M. 467
One mile north of Oasis State Park
Web site:
Phone: 356-5235
Spring/Fall hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Summer hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday
Entry fee: $3 adults, $2 seniors, $1 students
Call for special guided tours

Sample text from one of the signs describing how early man may have viewed the springs and lakes near the Blackwater Draw Site:
“Our family group has arrived at the water hole that everyone talked about. We have walked far to reach the spring, and everyone is tired, hungry and thirsty. The tall grass is hard to walk through, we have followed animal tracks to find our way here.”