Shallow caves gape in gray rock like eyeholes in a mask. A whiff of sage rises from the scree below. Except for the wind blowing here a good five hours' drive southeast of Portland, all is silence. At the back of one cave, where the high ceiling slopes sharply to the ground, lie two discarded Bud Light beer cans. Have high school kids been drinking here? Whoever left the cans should have known better. And yet . ... people have been littering these caves for more than 14,000 years.
Right. That's not a misprint or exaggeration. Scientistis have dated coprolites — basically, mummified human feces — found here at Paisley to 14,500 years ago. That's way before archaeologists long believed — and some textbooks still state — that humans first settled North America.
When the last big glacier — which had covered what is now Seattle with 3,000 feet of ice — had just started pulling back to Canada. and the great Lake Missoula floods were still roaring periodically through Eastern Washington and the Columbia River Gorge, people were living right here, smelling the sage, looking out across the Summer Lake Basin in the afternoon sun.