A group of rock climbers is being credited with reporting the excavation of Washoe Tribe artifacts at a popular Hope Valley climbing area earlier this month.
South Lake Tahoe resident Brad Perry and a group of friends noticed a man digging around the base of rocks in the Barbed Wire Boulders area with hand tools several times in the past four months, Perry said Tuesday. The Barbed Wire Boulders are located on the east side of Luther Pass north of the intersection of Highways 88 and 89.
The group of climbers confronted the man about the excavation on a couple of occasions before reporting him to Alpine County Sheriff's Office on Sept. 4, Perry said.
"I think, especially, boulderers respect the area and that's why we turned this guy in," Perry said. "We knew it was totally wrong what he was doing."
On Sept. 7, deputies responded to the area of the boulders after a suspect vehicle was located by a California Department of Fish and Game game warden, according to a statement from the Alpine County Sheriff's Office.
The investigation led to the recovery of several artifacts, but no arrests have been made in the case, said Rita Vollmer, a spokeswoman for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The identity of the suspect has not released. The investigation is ongoing.
Alpine County Undersheriff Robert Levy did not return a voicemail requesting comment on the incident Tuesday.
The excavation caused significant damage to the area and had the potential to make trees and large boulders unstable and dangerous to visitors, according to the statement.
Perry said he is concerned the area may be closed following the excavation and discovery of the artifacts. He said there is a large group of volunteers ready to restore the area before the upcoming winter turns the exposed dirt into a "huge mud pit."
"Right now, it's been a month, and it's getting to the point were we want to get back in there," Perry said.
The boulders contain a route known as "Welcome to the Future," a nationally-recognized, unique and very difficult climb in the Lake Tahoe area, Perry said. Some experienced climbers will train all summer in an attempt to ascend the route, Perry said.
Vollmer said she does not expect the Forest Service to pursue a closure of the area and is working with the Washoe Tribe to make sure the area is properly restored.
Darrel Cruz, the Director of the Washoe Tribe's Historic Preservation Office, encouraged people who come across Washoe artifacts to take pictures, but leave the items in place for future generations.
"This is very important to us because this is our heritage," Cruz said. "By this action that happened, it kind of erased some of our past."
Cruz declined to discuss exactly what was taken from the area, citing the ongoing investigation, but said there were items from the ancestral Hunglelti, or southern Washoe. He said it is everyone's responsibility to protect the area's history.
Vollmer said she expected the area to be restored prior to this winter and encouraged interested volunteers to call the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest's Carson Ranger District Office.
She urged climbers to be careful when climbing in the area because the digging may have made previously stable boulders unsteady.
Vollmer, Cruz and the Sheriff's Office each thanked the group of climbers for reporting the excavation at the site.
The Carson Range District Office can be reached at 775-882-2766.