How many people get to return to scenes of their childhood and share those idyllic spots with young and old alike? Cedaredge resident, Alma Stewart Evans, PhD is one of those lucky few.
Alma grew up riding horses, playing and hiking in the Shavano Valley west of Montrose. As a teen she left the area and pursued postsecondary studies which took her from Mesa College to Western State and finally to the University of Denver where she earned her doctorate in educational administration. She grew up professionally in Mesa County then moved to Delta where she served as principal at Garnet Mesa Elementary School. In 2004 she retired as director of curriculum for the Delta County School District 50J.
A decade after retirement, Alma attended a lecture about the Eagle Rock Shelter near Hotchkiss. The talk was presented by Glade Hadden who was then working as a Bureau of Land Management archeologist. At the close of his presentation the audience was asked if anyone would be interested in volunteering to serve as a site steward at the shelter. Alma volunteered and eventually was fortunate to work on a couple of projects with Hadden and Dr. Carol Patterson, an anthropologist, professor at Colorado Mesa University, and prolific author. In the course of their conversations, Dr. Patterson mentioned that the Ute Indian Museum was training docents for Shavano Valley Petroglyph Park.
"When I heard 'Shavano Valley,'" Alma recalled, "my heart strings jumped!"
The idea of returning to her girlhood haunts intrigued Alma. But Dr. Patterson had a caveat. Becoming a docent meant taking more classes, she told Alma. But that requirement was absolutely no problem for an educator whose love of learning has been a hallmark of her personal and professional life.
Thus began Alma's second career. After taking classes, reading a host of books and articles, and -- most importantly -- walking with scientists and Native American tribal elders, Alma has become a docent and guide for Shavano Valley and a sought-after public speaker on the people and history of the valley.
She recently gave a talk at the Grand Mesa Arts & Events Center as part of the Voices of the Western Slope lecture series and she has presented programs for the Surface Creek Valley Historical Society and the Montrose Historical Society.
Alma introduces all of her lectures with the same opening line: "I am not an archeologist but I have walked many trails with archeologists and I am a passionate amateur."
Reflecting back on her field work and her learning, she says that the best thing about her experiences is "the knowledge I've gained and the people I've met. The history of Shavano Valley is a fascinating topic and those who study the area are interesting people."
The most striking features of the Shavano Valley are the many petroglyphs that adorn trailside rock walls. One of Alma's most memorial encounters was spending time learning about the petroglyphs from the Ute tribal leaders. She has learned to present information about the valley with respect and appreciation as she tries her best to live up to the words of Northern Ute elder Clifford Duncan who is cited in Dr. Patterson's 2016 book "Ute Petroglyphs of Western Colorado and Eastern Utah":
"People should be educated about the rock art," said Duncan. "That's how it will be protected."
The Shavano Valley site is preserved thanks to the efforts of the Archeological Conservancy, a national nonprofit group headquartered in New Mexico. Tours are available by appointment only and a fee is charged. To arrange a tour of the site, contact Alma Evans at 970-856-6555 or Russ Barr at 970-901-6531.