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Adventure : Exploration

Five Family Archaeological Adventures for Fall

Just because school's back in session doesn't mean you have to throw in the towel on family adventures. In the spirit of the season, make your outings educational. With cooler days and fewer crowds, fall's an ideal time to explore the many cultural sites and ancient ruins around the country. Learning vacations shouldn't be a tough sell. After all, most kids are natural-born archaeologists: They ask a million questions and love to dig in the dirt.

But setting little ones loose on ancient ruins without advance prep is a recipe for mayhem, as I learned on a family trip to Gisewa Pueblo in New Mexico earlier this summer. The Native American settlement, dating back at least 700 years, was once home to a 17th-century Spanish Mission church and today is home to some 2,000 people of the nearby Jemez Pueblo community. My four sons, ages two to eight, know how to hike a trail—scouring the ground for beetles and lizards—but this adventure challenged them in new ways. They couldn't resist climbing and exploring ruins, nor could they slow down long enough to appreciate the subterranean stories of an ancient culture, preserved just beneath the topsoil.

But, lucky for us, our tour guide was Matthew Liebmann, friend, Harvard professor, and archaeologist, who's spent over a decade living with the Jemez people and studying their ancestral heritage.

With a little guidance, the kids learned to explore cultural sites with respect and curiosity, to become, as Liebmann puts it, "modern-day Indiana Joneses, who are both brave and ethical, and won't run into a sacred temple and swipe an indigenous people's most cherished idol." Follow Liebmann's five ways to raise budding archaeologists; then let them loose, feeling more responsible, at one of Liebmann's top kid-pleasing cultural sites this fall.

(Actually, at a time when sojourners are rushing after Forrest Fenn's reported $3-million buried treasure, these are behavioral guidelines we can all stand to practice.)

Take only pictures; leave only footprints.
Don’t remove arrowheads, shards of pottery, or any other artifact from a park or historic site. You might pick them up and look carefully, with curiosity, but once you're done, put them back where you discovered them. "These artifacts are pieces to a puzzle we want to preserve as archeologists so that we can learn from them," says Liebmann. "When they are removed from their place, the pieces lose their contextual story. And the place loses a piece of information that could shed light on how people inhabited and survived in the world at that time." If you think you found something of magnitude, leave it where you found it and alert a park authority.

Make weird things seem normal and normal things seem weird.
When approaching a new culture with kids, point out the similarities—that they lived in houses, just like us. Then admire the differences—that their houses were built into cliffs. Ask questions: How did they eat? What did they eat, and where? “Sometimes people in the past did things that seem really weird to us today, but they did those things for good reasons, some of which are similar to why we might do things today," says Liebmann. "Why would people crouch down in a hole for hours on end in order to catch an eagle, to get some tail feathers? They could ask the same thing about why we wait hours in line for a chance to see Justin Bieber.”

Impress upon your kids: It may be different, but it's not bad.
When visiting ancient ruins, says Liebmann, "let go of the presumption that because the people lived long ago they were either savages or stupid. Many of these cultures lasted thousands of years—a lot longer than [our culture] has to date—and they came up with ways to live, survive, and even thrive in the world." Pay attention to how cultures adapted to their environment. Was it arid, or wet? Hot, or cold? Visiting historic places is a great opportunity to appreciate diversity and encourage empathy.

Study up and develop a discerning eye.
Do some reading before your trip so you can tell your child about the site in advance. "Going beyond Wikipedia pays off," say Liebmann. Discuss how you expect them to behave. Consider scheduling a tour with park rangers or local guides, as they know the area inside and out. Pay attention to the details; something that looks like a hill in a wide-open, flat space might actually be the remains of a thousand-year-old village. Train your eye to notice what is manmade and what was caused by the elements. "This discerning eye is a skill that gets sharper with practice and research," says Liebmann. "It's like bird-watching. When you start out, a bird is a bird. But as you learn, you begin to recognize the exotic ones."

Don’t try to do it all in one day.
Start with the most impressive section and work your way out. Covering one section well is better than messily trying to cover all of them. You'll need to be ready to pull the ripcord at any time with young ones in tow, so pack plenty of water and snacks, and make sure everyone is dressed appropriately for the environment.

Five family-friendly destinations:
1. Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez, Colorado
The nine-hundred-year-old cliff dwellings of Ancestral Pueblo (a.k.a., Anasazi) look as though they were built yesterday. Don't miss the guided tour of Balcony House. Kids will love crawling through a 12-foot tunnel on all fours to access the site, and later climbing down the ladders when it's time to leave.

2. Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site, Collinsville, Illinois
Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, this site was the ancient capital of North America, occupied from A.D. 700–1400. Explore the remains of a city that boasted over 30,000 people, whom archaeologists call "Mississippians," though we don't know what they called themselves. Climb to the top of Monks' Mound, a ten-storey platform where the temple of the paramount chief used to be. And see the reconstructed "Woodhenge," a calendrical time-keeping device erected to mark the solstices.

 3.  L'Anse Aux Meadows National Historical Site, Newfoundland
The only known European settlement in North America before Columbus, this site dates back 1,000 years ago. See the excavated remains and reconstructed versions of the peat-turf houses that were briefly occupied by Norse seamen (a.k.a., Vikings) during the time of Leif Erikson.

 4.  Jamestown, Virginia
In the past decade, archaeologists have discovered the site of the original Jamestown Fort—among a slew of other finds. Kids will love the ferry ride across the James River and the hands-on archaeology demonstrations. Bring your swimsuits and take a dip in the river after your visit, or detour to nearby Colonial Williamsburg. Jamestown is home to an impressive museum as well.

5. Teotihuacan, Mexico
Just north of Mexico City, this bustling pre-Aztec metropolis of over 100,000 people was the New York City of the Ancient World, thriving from 300 B.C.A.D.600. The city is home to the Pyramid of the Sun, which is one of the largest pyramids in the world, built upon a base larger than those in Egypt.

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Mountain Bikers, Start Your Engines

Currie Technologies, the umbrella company for a handful of e-bike brands, stopped by Outside Magazine on Monday to offer a sneak peek of their 2014 line. Electric bikes were a major talking point at Interbike last month, with one section of the show devoted to the segment, and more brands than ever displaying them. So we weren’t surprised that Currie wanted to get their e-bikes in front of us. It was surprising, though, that the company chose to woo us not with commuter or utility bikes, the part of the U.S. market where electric has gotten the most traction. Instead, they rolled out a line of pedal-assisted mountain bikes.

Currie Tech has been selling e-mountain bikes under the Haibike name in Europe for three years, but this will be the first season they bring the bikes to the U.S. And they are not just easing into the market with a model or two to test the waters. Marty Schlesinger, Southwest Territory Manager for Currie Tech, presented three bikes, most notably the flagship 2014 model, a full-suspension 27.5er with six inches of travel front and rear called the Xduro AMT Pro. In addition to that topline build, Haibike will offer a second, lower spec six-inch full-suspension 27.5er, a five-inch full-suspension 27.5er, a 29er hard tail, and a DH-oriented 26er with seven inches of travel front and rear.

At the heart of all the bikes is a bottom-bracket mounted Bosch motor that’s powered by a 400-watt lithium-ion battery. It’s a pedal-assist system, meaning that the motor doesn’t work on its own but simply augments a rider’s effort with up to 300 watts of supplemental energy.

We have seen e-mountain bikes before (from the likes of BH, Optibike, Energie Cycles, and ProdechoTech), but these Haibikes are the most legitimate looking trail models we’ve witnessed yet. All the full-suspension models use a time-tested four-bar linkage for travel, and all parts throughout the line come from reputable industry players, including suspension from Fox and Rockshox  and components from Shimano and SRAM. The Xduro AMT Pro sports a SRAM XO/XO1 drivetrain, blingy Iodine 3 wheels from Crank Brothers, and even a Crank Brothers Kronolog dropper post.

Build quality and spec aside, the biggest question we have is whether electric bikes have a place on the trails. At Outside, the bikes were met with everything from a mix of guarded curiosity and nervous laughter to outright scorn. One editor—not a cyclist, incidentally—spent 15 minutes lecturing the guys from Haibike on why electric bikes don’t belong on the dirt.

There are the obvious issues of user conflicts and trail damage due to the increased weights and speeds of the bikes. And the bikes also raise important advocacy questions since many trail-use debates center around motorized vs. non-motorized. But the biggest objections seemed to be emotional ones. “When you go back in the woods, shouldn’t it be about purity of experience and getting away from it all?” one editor asked. “Isn’t mountain biking about physically pushing yourself?”

Currie Tech’s Schlesinger wasn’t surprised by the skepticism. “I’ve been touring around the southwest showing these bikes, and it’s about a half-and-half split between those who are interested and those who oppose it,” he said. “But there is interest. These bikes have a place.”

Schlesinger says the bikes allow a bigger segment of users to get out and be active. The electric assist makes it easier for those who otherwise aren’t fit enough or are returning from injury. He also says Haibikes are perfect for ski resorts—and cites interest from Durango Mountain and Winter Park—because they enable riders who would have trouble with the altitude and exertion if it weren’t for the electric assist.

After the meeting, a couple of editors took the Haibikes out on our local Dale Ball trail network. Objections aside, it was difficult to not enjoy zipping up the steepest climbs faster than ever and with a lot less effort than normal. The bikes handled reasonably well on the uphill, though it was easy to lose traction on techy bits because of the added torque. Downhill, the suspensions were smooth enough, though the extra weight (all the bikes tipped the scales over 50 pounds) made the ride more ponderous than playful.

One editor noted that the bikes were the ultimate Strava killer. With an extra 300 watts behind you, it would be easy to go knock off all the local KOMs. Another quickly realized that the added torque made the Haibikes the ultimate wheelie machines.

But even as we got accustomed to the idea of the bikes, the pitfalls weren’t far behind. After one pause to catch our breath, we started back down the trail, surging quickly from zero to 15 miles per hour thanks to the electric assist. The sudden burst of speed meant that we didn’t see a hiker around a blind turn and he didn’t see or hear us either, and we very nearly mowed him down. We steered off the trail in time, and the hiker was gracious about it, but the lesson was clear.

For all the potential benefits of getting more people outside, the e-mountain bike seems destined to create a whole new set of trail-oriented issues and conflicts. That’s inevitable with any new technology, of course. We just hadn’t realized that the debate was so imminent.

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Unveiling the Jetforce Avalanche Airbag Pack

On Thursday, Lou Dawson at Wild Snow gave the first detailed look at Black Diamond’s new Jetforce Avalanche Airbag pack.

It's the first airbag pack that inflates and deflates with a battery-powered fan instead of a cartridge or a canister of gas or air. Because of that,  this pack can be deployed multiple times in one ski day or trip if necessary—no recharging of batteries required.

Interest in the Jetforce was so great that it crashed Wild Snow’s server. The reason: Black Diamond’s Jetforce solves nearly all of the major issues with current avalanche airbag packs.

  • Skiers, riders and others no longer have to think twice about deploying their pack. If you’re afraid, pull the trigger. It’s easy to deflate the bag and repack it, and it will instantly be armed again and ready to go. One battery charge inflates the pack multiple times.
  • No longer do pack owners have to search for a place to refill a canister.
  • There’s no need to haul multiple heavy and expensive canisters on a multi-day trip.
  • You won’t be hassled by the airlines when you fly with the Jetforce.
  • A switch turns the inflation mechanism on and off, so there’s no fussing to zip away handles when you’re loading the heli, and it’s unlikely you’ll accidentally activate it. If you do—no problem. Deflate it, repack it, and you’re still protected.
  • And for tree skiers, one further bonus: Once inflated, the fan keeps pulsing air. So even if the bag gets snagged and ripped—unlikely since the Jetforce’s airbag is slipperier and tougher than most others on the market—it’ll still keep you afloat.

Rumor also has it that Arc'teryx is working on a fan-inflated avalanche pack as well—if so, it hasn't publicly released any details on its system save a patent application for a fan design.

The price and exact release date are still being determined. The Jetfoce 28 will retail for about the same price as other airbag packs, approximately $1,000, in 11-, 28-, and 40-liter sizes; 7 lbs., 4 oz. (28 liters). Black Diamond hopes to make the pack available for Fall 2014.

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