For more than 50 years, Waldo Wilcox kept a closely guarded -- and ancient -- secret.
Scattered throughout his 4,200-acre ranch were almost perfectly preserved remains of ancient life, ranging from arrowheads to village sites.
"I looked at it like this: I wanted to keep it the way it is," said Wilcox, 74. "But when I die, I'm not going to have a lot to say about it. I finally decided I'll take a little money and get out now."
The ranch eventually was turned over to the state, and the remains were revealed Wednesday after archaeologists led reporters to the site.
The remote canyon offers some of the best evidence of the Fremont culture -- hunter-gatherers and farmers who lived mostly within the present-day borders of Utah.
Archaeologists said the villages were occupied more than 1,000 years ago, and may be as old as 4,500 years.
"We've documented about 225 sites, and it's just scratching the surface," said Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones. "There are hundreds of other sites."
To reach them, a caravan of news groups traveled for two hours from the mining town of East Carbon City, over a serpentine thriller of a dirt road that topped an 8,200-foot mountain before dropping into the narrow canyon in Utah's Book Cliffs region.
Officials kept known burial sites and human remains out of view of reporters and cameras. But within a single square mile of verdant meadows, archaeologists showed off one village site and said there were five more where arrowheads, pottery shards and other artifacts can still be found lying on the ground.
The Fremont people were efficient hunters, taking down deer, elk, bison and small game and leaving behind piles of animal bone waste, Jones said.
They fished for abundant trout in Range Creek, using a hook and line or weirs. In their more advanced stage they grew corn, although cultivation could be risky in dry years or when bears raided stocks, he said.
Granaries, ranging from cupboard-sized to several yards across, are in some cases up nearly inaccessible cliffs. Some are full of grass seed and corn.
They offer evidence that the people moved around seasonally and left stores of food, Jones said.
The half-buried pit houses don't have the grandeur of New Mexico's Chaco Canyon or Colorado's Mesa Verde, where overhanging cliffs shelter stacked stone houses.
But they are remarkable in that they hold information about the Fremont culture that has been untouched by looters.
The San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land bought Wilcox's ranch for $2.5 million. The conservation group transferred the ranch to the Bureau of Land Management, which turned it over to Utah.
The deal calls for the ranch to be opened for public access, a subject certain to raise debate over the proper stewardship of a significant archaeological find.
Already, hikers have taken some arrowheads and disturbed others flagged on the ground, said University of Utah graduate student Joel Boomgarden, one of 35 students rushing to complete survey work in the canyon.
By Paul Foy