What can survive the passage of time? I spent this past week in the Chiricahua Mountains on an ecology-themed camping trip with nearly 80 middle school students. As part of the trip, we visited the remains of Fort Rucker, which more than 100 years ago was an Army post. Today several buildings remain standing in various stages of decay.
Walking through these ruins made me think about how well the human presence in the desert will be recorded. The southwest is well-known for its historical record of pottery, but what will we leave behind? Surely some day a wildfire will burn through this part of the mountains, leaving only a terse record of charcoal, metal, and glass. And even after only 100 years, and active caretaking by the Forest Service, this fort is falling apart. At dusk I walked through one abandoned house where the floors were soft, and ghosts haunted the corridors.
I suspect the human record we leave will be less well-read in the remains of our buildings, and more in the long-term ecological impacts of our presence. Extinctions, range shifts, mining, and water extraction leave a larger signal than any building ever could.