History receives recognition at White Sands Missile Range

By USAEC Public AffairsMarch 23, 2016

Athena missile launch complex
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Archaeological Field School
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Apache Rock Art
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Plants of traditional importance to Mescalero Apache tribe
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Trinity National Historic Landmark
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Wind and Sand historical newspaper website
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Although it is the birthplace of America's missile and space activity, and one of the nation's most important Cold War era facilities, the historical magnitude of White Sands Missile Range may not be widely known. Documenting and managing that history recently garnered recognition for the installation's Cultural Resource Management Program in the Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards competition.

The installation manages 8,300 recorded archaeological sites, several thousand facilities and structures, a historic main post district, and two national historic landmarks: the Trinity Site (first atomic bomb test) and the V-2 Launch Complex 33.

The built environment on the White Sands Missile Range is unusually extensive and includes structures and facilities over much of its 2.3 million acres. In the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the installation supported the most instrumented range in the world, containing hundreds of instrumentation sites with state-of-the-art tracking telescopes, cinetheodolites (photographic instruments that collect trajectory data), radars and telemetry equipment.

With technological changes, many of these sites became obsolete and unused. In support of the Army's Facilities Reduction Program, more than 175 facilities were inventoried and evaluated for their historic significance. In addition, large scale military training exercises necessitated the inventory of 92,000 acres of land for historic properties in support of the Network Integration Evaluation program and future operational and test missions.

The team earned praise from the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Division for the full inventory of more than 116 structures included in the Small Missile Range Complex, considering it a model for similar recordings in the future.

The team also completed the inventory and evaluation of the Green River Test Site, an off-range 6,500 acre annex facility that supported the Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System test program and Pershing test firing in the 1960s and 70s. The facilities are no longer used and are targeted for demolition. In consultation with the Utah Division of State History, Green River Test Site was determined a National Register of Historic Places eligible Military Landscape.

To offset the loss of this resource, and to preserve its history for the community, the team is developing an interactive eBook for the Green River community to use for educational purposes, restoring a scale model of the Athena missile in a local park, and developing new interpretive signage for the missile.

The team also developed a project to digitize historic newspapers making them accessible on the Internet. The Wind and Sand newspaper editions (becoming The Missile Ranger in 1969) were digitized from 1950 to 1969. The paper, still published today, has provided when-it-happened accounts of White Sands' rich history.

The collection was scanned into word and date searchable documents, with both high and low resolution downloadable files, and is viewable in a "flip version" simulating a printed newspaper.

The newspapers were old, but not as old as another project conducted that same year. The cultural resources staff contracted a multidisciplinary investigative team to document the trackways of Pleistocene mammals through archaeological and paleontological surveys around Lake Otero shoreline.

Although limited artifacts were found, a juvenile mastodon fossil was discovered. Mammoth fossils had previously been identified in the Tularosa Basin, but this represented the first finding of a mastodon.

The study produced significant data to provide insight into changes in the paleo-climate and paleo-hydrology of the area and will help identify high-probability areas for late Pleistocene-age archaeological sites.

The White Sands cultural resources staff also benefit from a number of partnerships they have established with educational institutions. The School of Engineering from the University of Vermont provided condition assessments and treatment recommendations on 13 historic ranches. This project is part of a broad plan to stabilize and further preserve the existing historic ranches that remain largely intact on the installation.

WSMR's team has worked closely with the New Mexico State University, including the Public History Program and the Anthropology Program. Opportunities have been provided for Public History student interns to assist in the creation of a digital archive for the thousands of facilities and structures at WSMR. Partnerships with the Anthropology Program have resulted in the first ever field school conducted at White Sands Missile Range and support has been provided to three Masters level students who have completed writing their theses on archaeological sites located on White Sands Missile Range.

And in another partnership with the Cornerstone Community Partnerships in Santa Fe, the team has begun initial planning to stabilize and rehabilitate the McDonald Ranch house at the Trinity National Historic Landmark.

White Sands' Native American Coordinator and natural resources staff worked with the Mescalero Apache tribe members to identify and collect plants with traditional uses, in an effort to teach Mescalero youth about traditional Apache culture. They were able to collect Agave, Sumac, Banana Yucca and Sotol. They also partnered with the Tortugas Pueblo, a local non-federally recognized tribe, to collect Yucca stalks for a religious ceremony, known as the Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival.

The White Sands Missile Range cultural resources staff have creatively sought new ways to effectively identify, protect and preserve their cultural resources in a cost-effective manner. These efforts gained them recognition in the Secretary of the Army Environmental Awards and will represent the Army in the Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards program later this year.