By Jim O’Donnell
A young woman hurried across the flat, trailing footprints. At times she slipped. At times she stretched to cross a puddle. She carried a child and possibly a container for water, or food, or perhaps a bag of firewood or stones for making tools. The ditch grass, a thin herb growing in the wet lakeshore mud, had gone to seed. As the woman walked, she squished the tiny seeds into the mud. The child she carried squirmed and protested. She stopped, set the child on the ground, readjusted her load, then pulled the toddler back onto her hip and continued the journey.
At the same time, a bear-sized being made its way along the shore, moving perpendicular to the woman and child. When the giant ground sloth (Folivora) encountered the fresh tracks of the woman, it stopped, stood up on its hind legs, and sniffed the air. The animal turned a circle then headed in the opposite direction, perhaps recalling previous unpleasant encounters with human beings. The mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), on the other hand, didn’t care. The 13-foot-tall beast crossed her path fearlessly, without stopping, imprinting its own feet atop those of the woman.
Her path took her about a mile across the lakeshore flats to an unclear destination. There, she stopped, left the child and her load with others, turned, and made her way back along the shore, crossing both the sloth and mammoth tracks, stacking her own prints atop theirs.
New Mexico’s White Sands National Park holds the largest collection of Ice Age human and animal footprints in the world. Much of White Sands was once a vast, shallow body of water surrounded by savannah-like forests. Archaeologists and geologists call this Lake Otero. During the Ice Age, New Mexico was much cooler and wetter than it is today, and Otero was one of many such lakes throughout the Tularosa Basin. For more than 2,000 years, humans and animals frequented this rich marshland, leaving behind multiple layers of footprints extending over several square miles. There are thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of these prints in the area representing mammoths, dire wolves, camels, giant sloths, short-faced bears, and other extinct megafauna.
Many of these prints have been noted as far back as the 1940s and 1950s, but it wasn’t until 2021 that an interdisciplinary team of researchers made a staggering announcement: The human footprints left behind in the lakeshore mud had been dated to between 21,000 and 23,000 years ago.
“There are no words to express how I experienced it. It’s… breathtaking.” Kim Pasqual-Charlie is a member of the Sky Clan and the first female appointee of the Acoma Tribal Historical Preservation Board. She, along with representatives of dozens of other regional Indigenous nations, visited the area, consulting and often working alongside the archaeologists uncovering the woman’s prints. “To see something representing… no, coming directly from, one of our ancestors… oh, breathtaking is the only word I have!”
If the 23,000-year dates are correct, the ancient footprints once again upend much of what we thought we knew about the peopling of the Americas and how we hear and understand Native American mythologies. It also gives the American public the opportunity to better understand our history and what is, and what is not, good science.
My son began high school in Taos in the fall of 2022. One of his required first-semester courses was The History of New Mexico. In his second week of class, he came home frustrated. “I thought you knew something about archaeology!” At issue was a nearly failed New Mexico history quiz. “You said that Clovis weren’t the first Americans. You said people had been in North America way before Clovis! Now you made me fail my test!” Typical teen.
For the most part, my son was correct. I had explained that the Clovis First Theory was long dead and that plenty of archaeological evidence demonstrated that people had been in the Americas well before Clovis. Humans had arrived in our neck of the woods 20,000 years ago, possibly 30,000 years ago, and perhaps far earlier. But my son’s teacher either didn’t know or didn’t care. The textbook said Clovis First, and so Clovis First it was.
The Clovis First Theory holds that small groups of people made their way from Siberia to North America across the Bering land bridge about 14,000 years ago, when sea levels were low enough to connect Siberia to Alaska. These were the very first people in the Americas, the theory holds, and they made their way south following a 1,000-mile ice-free corridor along the Rocky Mountains into the interior of the continent, dispersing widely and rapidly while creating the first continent-wide culture.
In 1929, a road crew working in the Blackwater Draw area near Clovis, New Mexico, came across a mess of giant, ancient bones. Edgar B. Howard, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist who began excavations at the site, described it as “matted masses of bones of mammoth.” Mixed in with the bones were large, thin, fluted lance-shaped spear points. The points were beautiful, crafted from cherts, obsidians, and jaspers. These are the famed Clovis points, tools unique to the Americas. More than 10,000 Clovis points have been found across the country. They all date to about 12,800-13,500 years ago, a time when the glaciers melted across the continent’s northern latitudes and mountain peaks. Clovis points are distinctive; the technology to make them appeared suddenly and, at the time they were found, there was no accepted human habitation older than Clovis. This led archaeologists to conclude that Clovis points were evidence of the very first humans in the Americas. Clovis First took hold, dominating the archaeological field, making its way into textbooks and teaching materials. This makes sense. It was quite simply the best understanding researchers had at the time based on available evidence. That said, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that Clovis First took on religious-like qualities in some circles.
But for most archaeologists, the Clovis First Theory no longer holds water, and hasn’t for decades.
There is no more vigorous, and at times acrimonious, debate in North American archaeology than the date and route human beings took to arrive in the Western Hemisphere. Over the past few decades, the dispute has spilled into the public consciousness, generating thousands of pop-sci articles, podcasts, radio programs, documentaries, books, and wildly ill-informed conjecture.
The White Sands footprints are an impressive and startling addition to the scientific debate about the peopling of the Americas. Startling, that is, to many archaeologists and the general public. But not at all startling to people like Kim Pasqual-Charlie, descendants of America’s original inhabitants.
For decades, dozens of pre-Clovis sites have turned up throughout North and South America. The oldest accepted physical evidence dates to 15,500 years ago, but some sites hint at much older dates. Radiocarbon dating puts the Monte Verde site in southern Chile at 14,800 years old and possibly 33,000 years old. The Pedra Furada in Brazil has yielded similar dates. The Topper site in South Carolina indicates human habitation going back 20,000 years, as does Bluefish Cave in the Yukon and Cactus Hill in Virginia. Flaked stone tools approximately 30,000 years old have turned up at Mexico’s Chiquihuite Cave. Bones with cut marks found in Uruguay date to 34,000 years ago—and so on.
All these sites and dates are heavily disputed within the archaeological community.
“Most archaeologists can agree that there are half a dozen or so sites that are reliably older than Clovis,” says Dan Odess, an archaeologist with the National Park Service and a member of the White Sands team. “The problem is, no one seems to agree on which half-dozen are legit.”
In order to accept a site as “legit,” archaeologists seek firm evidence of human activity and that it be undisturbed when found. This could be human remains, footprints, rock art, or groups of artifacts that are clearly human-derived in place within undisturbed geological deposits. It is a high standard, but it makes sense. Random modified rocks and bones without a clear sign of human creation just won’t cut the mustard.
The sites mentioned above are controversial because it is unclear, for example, how the stone tools found in Mexico were made. Most archaeologists doubt they are human-made tools at all. The Pedra Furada tools may have been created by Capuchin monkeys. Apparent cut marks on bones might be caused by modern construction work or falling rock. They could also result from hungry animals. When a site is disturbed for whatever reason, reliable dates from any method can be hard to come by.
This is what makes the White Sands prints so incredible. They are undisputable evidence of human beings. The sediments in which the prints were found were geologically intact and the methods used to obtain the dates were solid.
At first, they were just shadows, says David Bustos, chief of resources at White Sands. The National Park Service knew of potential human prints as far back as 2009. He described how they appeared and disappeared, ethereal, with the blowing sands. Over thousands of years, wet and dry events preserved thousands of prints. The wind filled many of the footprints with different textured sands that made them visible when the winds shifted the gypsum dunes and lake sediments eroded away.
Some of the prints had solidified like plaster cast left to stand out as softer sands around them were blown away. Others, Bustos says, are only visible when the sediments are moist enough to create a contrast with the surrounding sands. “Once we brushed them out, it became super clear what we were seeing.”
Almost immediately, the National Park Service notified associated tribes and pueblos. They arranged for consultation meetings with people like Kim Pasqual-Charlie, her sister Bonnie, Holly Houghten from the Mescalero Apache tribe, and Presley Haeske from the Pueblo of Zuni. In all, thirty-one tribes and pueblos consulted with the National Park Service, providing guidance and monitoring the researchers.
The White Sands team uncovered a relatively small area. They did not want to expose too many prints given how easily they erode. Using fine brushes, they excavated the tracks, photographing and mapping them along the way. There were eleven distinct layers in all. The layers were in chronological order from top to bottom, Bustos explained. Higher up equals younger. Deeper equals older. Each layer had prints of both megafauna and humans, and the sediments had not been mixed. These intact layers suggested the archaeologists might be able to get solid dates from both above and below the
eight track-bearing layers. But they needed something organic for the radiocarbon dating. That’s where the ditch grass seeds came in.
When the young woman hurried across the lakeshore, she pressed the ditch grass seeds into her footprint. It was these seeds that allowed researchers to date the prints.
The radiocarbon dating methods used by experts from the United States Geological Survey to obtain the dates of the footprints analyze carbon-14 isotopes. These isotopes decay at a constant rate over time. By comparing the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere to the amount in the plant material, researchers can come to an approximate age of the material.
The dates the White Sands team obtained were astonishing. The prints were an estimated 21,000 to 23,000 years old. The team was able to replicate these dates several times. Further, using dates obtained from ditch grass seeds found above and below the prints, they were able to narrow the window of possible dates and constrain the time window, giving them further confidence in the results.
“The numbers were spot-on each time,” Bustos says. “Of course, with anything of this age, there have been those that would question the dates, but we are pretty confident in what we have.”
One of the many things that makes these ancient dates so astounding is that the prints were made at a time when the ice sheets were at their maximum. Sea levels were 400 feet lower than today, and glaciers covered twenty-five percent of the Earth’s land surface, reaching as far south as present-day Illinois and Missouri, blocking north-to-south movement
for centuries, if not thousands of years. The ancestors of the people living at Lake Otero must have arrived thousands of years earlier—10,000 to 15,000 years before Clovis. “We were skeptical ourselves,” says Odess. “We were anxious to avoid falling into the trap of publishing an extraordinary find that would later fall apart under scrutiny. We took our time and made sure we did it right.”
Along the way, researchers realized that these were more than just prints and tracks. Collectively, they told a story. Or a number of stories. There was the woman and the child moving along the lakeshore in very close proximity to massive mammals. In another location, a scattering of prints suggests humans hunting and killing a giant ground sloth. The sloth turned circles, the humans raced back and forth to surround it, the sloth swiped at them with its long claws. Yet another location hints at children playing in the mud, jumping in puddles, splashing each other. Another set of tracks may indicate people pulling a heavily loaded travois-type contraption across the sand, perhaps carrying meat from a successful hunt. This all remains conjecture—these particular tracks may also indicate someone simply dragging a pole through the mud or, perhaps, a tusk. Or bones. More research may yield an answer.
“You have to see it to believe it,” says Bustos. “Not only are the dates amazing, but these stories imprinted on the landscape show people and extinct megafauna interacting over thousands of years. Adult and baby mammoths, the little ones playing around. Young and adult sloths and the prints of human children just everywhere.”
Odess agrees. “They are just incredibly neat. The tracks people made thousands of years ago are there, and the information we can glean about relationships between people and the animals they encounter is beautiful.”
That the long-debunked Clovis First hypothesis is still being taught in our public schools is troubling. It distorts what and how we think about Indigenous America, how we understand our history as Americans, and how we teach the process of science.
For decades, most archaeologists have accepted that there were sites older than Clovis and, in many cases, much older. Yet some influential archaeologists and the public in general became stuck on Clovis and, even now, brand new articles—not to mention textbooks and teaching materials—continue to posit the Clovis First Theory. Why?
To start with, it takes a long time for innovations in a scientific field such as archaeology to be accepted, take hold within the field, and find their way into teaching materials. Further, Clovis First is a neat, tidy, easy-to-grasp package perfect to drill facts into heads instead of teaching the complexities of history. But history isn’t neat and tidy. It is complicated. In fact, much of what we teach about American history is just plain wrong, much of it deliberately warped. When it comes to life in North and South America before 1492, almost everything you think you know is at best boring—and at worst, false.
Teaching a dumbed-down version of history keeps us from fully comprehending the world in which we live.
It also bores our children to tears, and sends some home to argue with their fathers.
In their groundbreaking book The Dawn of Everything (2021), archaeologist David Wengrow and the late anthropologist David Graeber wrote that human history is far more interesting, complex, textured, inspiring, shocking, and just plain fun than we are taught. If we would just teach history honestly, they posit, no one could possibly get bored.
There is also a problem within the field of archaeology. Carl Sagan famously reworded Laplace’s principle as “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Science can be inherently conservative, skeptical, and slow to integrate and accept new information. This makes sense. Solid evidence must be gathered to help us discern between reliable information and current fads. But, according to Odess, some archaeologists take Sagan’s rejoinder too far, burdening themselves with a myopic view of the world Sagan didn’t intend. A myopic view that has kept archaeologists from seeing what was often right in front of their faces, older artifacts that were not as distinct as the large, beautiful Clovis points.
“He who controls the past controls the future,” wrote George Orwell in 1984. “He who controls the present controls the past.” There is a toxic yet vital debate under way in today’s America. What should we and should we not teach our children about the past? The battle isn’t really about teaching or even history. It is about power.
The stories we tell about the past matter.
For Indigenous Americans, how we think about the past is particularly relevant. Euro-Americans have long justified the genocide of Native Americans and the taking of their land by denying or distorting Indigenous people’s history. If you create a people without history, destroying them becomes easier. Early Euro-Americans refused to see the link between Native Americans and the impressive mounds, monuments, and cities found across the continent. Instead, they claimed, these amazing artifacts were built by Atlanteans, Nephites, mysterious giants, lost Israelites, Irish monks, or even beings from outer space. The modern “ancient aliens” craze is rooted in this historical justification for genocide and land theft.
“In our stories, we migrated from somewhere up north, but we never came over any Bering land bridge,” Pasqual-Charlie laughs. “For us, all Puebloan people were once the same, but we got in trouble and split. We wandered until we came to this place.” She tells me that the White Sands footprints are connecting the dots for her.
According to Pasqual-Charlie, the Acoma language (Keres) has an ancient word for camel. “But how can we have that word if we’d never seen a camel?” For Pasqual-Charlie, seeing tracks of ancient Camelops, a species that went extinct more than 13,000 years ago, was a revelation. “We have that word because, at some point in our past, we had actually seen that animal,” she says. “We grow up listening to our traditional stories, but these aren’t just bedtime stories. These are things that actually happened.”
Indigenous stories have often been dismissed as mere folk tales or mythologies instead of the wealth of historical knowledge they are.
Once upon a time, I worked for a rather well-known archaeologist whose work focused on the American Southwest. She continually—and frustratingly—dismissed all so-called “folk” stories.
“Snakes? In Ireland?” She exclaimed, referring to the tale of St. Patrick driving the snakes from the Emerald Isle. (Somehow, she had missed the point that the snakes were an analogy for those that practiced the old, nature-based religions.) The fact that there were and are no snakes in Ireland was proof enough for her that most folk tales and mythologies should be dismissed—particularly Native American origin stories.
In fact, Native American origin stories are not in opposition to most Western scientific understandings of the peopling of the Americas. Indigenous stories frequently refer to massive walls of ice, strange giant animals, floods released by melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and the re-appearance of lands in the throes of post-glacial regeneration. The Cree people have a saying for “when the ice goes home,” suggesting glacial retreat. The Salish of British Columbia have a mammoth song and mammoth dance. In the Osage oral traditions, there are stories of a battle between giant beasts, mammoths, sloths, bears, and dire wolves. These suggest that Indigenous Americans had, in the distant past, experienced at least one glaciation—if not more.
At White Sands, Native American advisors found artifacts the archaeologists had missed, Pasqual-Charlie explains. “Traditions were passed down since ancient times,” she says. “We Pueblo people could see how stones were deliberately placed on the landscape in forms that may resemble constellations. We do the same thing at Acoma, so I could see them. The archaeologists couldn’t.”
For Lyle Balenquah, an archaeologist and member of the Hopi Nation, the White Sands prints came as no surprise. “This is simply proof of what we were taught as kids. Science is verifying our own cultural history,” he told me. “It is very significant in how we perceive our own history. As a scientist I think the numbers are cool. But as a Hopi? Well, we don’t attach numbers to our history. Dates don’t matter as much as the relationships.”
It is important to remember, Balenquah and others told me, that “archaeology is more collaborative now. Archaeology is now helping the tribes through science. Re-educating the profession has been a relative success, but people still need to realize, the tribal timeframe is slower. We aren’t in a rush. That reflects our longevity.”
“When Native scientists and community members are full participants in the research process, the stories that emerge are not only more respectful but also more accurate,” points out Dr. Jennifer Raff, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas. Raff is also the author of Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas (2022).
The earliest arrivals to the Americas did not see themselves as conquering new lands. Instead, the understating of human kinship with all living things—including and especially the land and waters—meant that these people had been here and had been here since always, says Dr. Joe Watkins, a senior consultant for ACE Consulting, and a visiting professor at Hokkaido University in Japan. Watkins is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
“You’re talking about two different worlds,” Watkins says. “On the Indigenous side, it doesn’t matter putting dates. Philosophically, we were never anywhere else.”
Only the Euro-American mind, obsessed with terms of ownership, possession, and conquest, can’t comprehend what Indigenous people mean when they say “since time immemorial,” Watkins says. “It doesn’t mean since forever. It means an entirely different way of being with the world.”
“Science, philosophy, history, tribal legends, and stories… they all serve different needs for different people at different times,” says Watkins. “In the West, history has been a way of explaining yourself, justifying yourself. There is an eagerness to find superiority and to define yourself in opposition to others instead of creating your own identity. But for us, I believe, history is a way of recognizing connections and relationships, relationships with non-human people. The Western perspective is largely irrelevant. It is beside the point. We Native peoples have nothing to prove.”
Native stories and the human footprints at White Sands are not the only line of evidence pointing to a deeply ancient Native North America. Recent genetic evidence demonstrates that human presence in the Americas dates anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, with the weight of evidence falling around 16,000-17,000 years ago, writes Dr. Raff of the University of Kansas in her book Origin. “The White Sands prints are still quite plausible based on the genetic research,” Raff told me. “But the current data doesn’t give us the full picture, of course,” she says. “I’m always eager for new data.”
Some linguists have pointed to the incredible diversity of languages among Native Americans as evidence of a very early arrival in the Western Hemisphere. This deeply controversial theory holds that languages diversify at a given rate and thus we can estimate when people arrived in the Americas based on that rate of change. The date linguists come up with is approximately 30,000-35,000 years, far older than any archaeological evidence supports. While not totally dismissed among archaeologists, the linguistics theory has been widely seen as not plausible. Still, if the White Sands dates hold, the date of arrival fits closer to the linguistic estimate.
“Linguistic techniques for assessing age are interesting but really hard to assess,” says Daniel Odess of the NPS, “but now, maybe we can’t be so dismissive. White Sands puts archaeology a bit more in line with some linguists.”
On the archaeological end of things, an increasing number of older and older sites are turning up because research methods and technologies have improved—but another big reason is that, finally, archaeologists are looking for them.
New research in Idaho has uncovered projectile points that are, for the moment, the oldest known points in the Americas dating to roughly 16,000 years ago. Interestingly, the points bear a strong resemblance to points found in Hokkaido, Japan, that are roughly the same age. This may not be terribly unusual, however; a recent article in Current Biology points to genetic evidence suggesting “multiple phases of Native American-related gene flow into northeastern Asia over the past 5,000 years, reaching the Kamchatka Peninsula and central Siberia.” This data indicates extensive historical back-and-forth between North America and Asia.
Some of these theories will gain new supporting evidence. Some will not. New ideas will arise and they too will require testing. This is how science works.
“The challenge,” says Raff, “is holding multiple things in your mind at the same time while leaving your mind open to new evidence.”
The 21,000- to 23,000-year numbers for the White Sands prints are not without controversy. Radiocarbon dating was the only method available to the team at White Sands. Dates derived from but one method are naturally less reliable than dates derived using a variety of methods. Further, skeptics argue, aquatic plants like the ditch grass used for the radiocarbon dates can often pick up older forms of carbon from other plant materials. This is known as the “freshwater reservoir effect.” Such contamination can result in dates that appear much older than they should.
But, Bustos says, they accounted for potential contamination. The White Sands team produced hundreds of radiocarbon dates from seeds at different layers in the soil. The dates lined up perfectly with their place in the sediments; that is, younger seeds on top and older seeds at the bottom. If the freshwater reservoir effect was messing with the data, they would have seen a random distribution of dates throughout the sample. They did not.
Some reviewers make the case that, if seed dates are indeed biased by the reservoir effect, they may still be in stratigraphic order, but the obtained dates could be still be off by a few thousand years.
“A lot of our critics haven’t been onsite,” explains Bustos. “We’ve uncovered eleven intact layers, all in chronological order. There was no mixing. The layers extend for miles. Critics are focusing on just one layer and have not accounted for the megafauna prints above the human prints. The mammoth prints above a human print show that the human prints were present before mammoth went extinct. In some places, there is over one meter of sediment between the human and megafauna prints, demonstrating a great amount of time between the two prints.”
Skeptics of the 21,000-to-23,000-year-old estimate point to other dating methods the White Sands team could use, including stimulated luminescence of the quartz sediments found in the footprints.
“We are keeping our minds open,” Odess says. “New data is always welcome, but even my most skeptical colleagues see what we have as pretty convincing. You just have to give this one credence.”
Because some cling to Clovis First with religious-like fervor, the degree of proof on sites like White Sands must be compelling, acknowledges Odess. “We will never find the perfect site. There will always be doubts no matter how well the work was done. It is important we not get out over our skis and criticize individual researchers. Archaeology is challenging. We are not trying to prove anything. We are trying to understand.”
Dr. Paulette Steeves, a Cree-Métis archaeologist at Algoma University in Canada, says the White Sands prints are young in comparison to what is out there. The author of The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere (2021), Steeves has compiled an impressive database consisting of hundreds of credible sites throughout the Americas that are older than Clovis and in many cases much, much older, perhaps going back 50,000 or even 100,000 years. “It is mindboggling how much is out there,” she told me. “It’s amazing.”
Steeves says there is an almost violent reaction in the archaeological establishment to researchers who find or even discuss sites older than the accepted dates. White Sands, she says, should be a warning to those unwilling to see what’s right in front of their faces. “We have to talk about this aggression in archaeology in order to change it,” she says.
But the real treasure, says Steeves, is off the coasts. “Let’s remember: The oldest sites in North America may be under hundreds of feet of water.”
During the Ice Ages, sea levels dropped, exposing hundreds of miles of new shore along both the Atlantic and Pacific continental shelves. Early migrants to the Americas most likely followed these ecologically rich coastlines, meaning that the earliest settlements and sites were flooded as the glaciers melted.
In 1974, a fishing trawler operating some 60 miles off the shore in the Chesapeake Bay pulled up fragments of a mastodon skull. Inside the same net was a human-made stone biface, a tool worked on both sides. The skull was dated at more than 20,000 years old, but the biface remains controversial. The trawler net had dragged along the sea bed for many miles. Was the biface associated with the skull or did it get mixed up with the skull as sea-bed soil layers were disturbed? For now, we can’t know. There is no reliable association between the dated skull fragment and the artifact. Still, the skull and biface hint at what might lie hundreds of feet underwater. “Specialists in underwater archaeology could excavate and document those sites. The cost would be enormous, however,” says Steeves. “But until we do there is no way we can put definitive dates on when people first arrived in the Americas.”
At White Sands, excavations of more prints will be slow. Erosion continues to prove a major challenge. “Many of these areas are eroding rapidly,” says Bustos. “On the western and eastern edges of the old lakeshore we see a lot of wind erosion. Temperature differentials are also breaking down the prints once they are exposed. The National Park Service is particularly interested in preservation. We are working with the tribes and pueblos on this because once the prints are gone, they are gone forever.”
Research on the prints will expand and continue. The White Sands team aims to test its data further and search for older prints. Its members also hope to expand their horizons.
“I do not believe these footprints are unique,” Bustos says. “There are thousands of playas throughout the American South-west that need to be studied. We are at the cutting edge of this research. I believe that, with time, many more places like this will be found. I just hope they can be recorded before they are lost to the rapid soil erosion we see at White Sands.”
Tens of thousands of years ago, children splashed in puddles along a lakeshore in what is now southern New Mexico. Tens of thousands of years later, my son splashes in puddles on the street outside my home. Tens of thousands of years ago, people left their footprints along a muddy flat. Tens of thousands of years later, I leave footprints across a muddy flat wet from snowmelt. We’ve all left tracks.
“If you are quiet and humble you can feel them and be there with them,” says Kim Pasqual-Charlie of Acoma Pueblo. “What those people left behind is our ability to connect with them and ask for their help when we need. What they left for us is the ability to retrace our own footsteps.”
Jim O’Donnell is a former field archaeologist based in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of Notes for the Aurora Society: 1500 Miles Across Finland on Foot, the forthcoming work of nonfiction The Fountain from Torrey House Press (February 2025), and Who Broke the World, a near-future novel centering on American climate refugees. He is also a noted conservation photographer. Learn more at aroundtheworldineightyyears.com.