Friday, February 13, 2015

PALATKI ... Home to The Sinagua

This was my early appointment yesterday.  There are just a few times a year that the entire site at Palatki can be viewed ... and yesterday was my lucky day!!  You have to call for reservations to visit this site, no matter when you come.  Due to the damage done by "tourists" and thrill seekers, groups are severely limited, not only in the number, but in the areas they are guided to.  This historic site is off Hwy 89A between Cottonwood and Sedona, 10 miles up a dirt road.  The signs to turn off on FR525 are very hard to see, but once on the dirt road, signs will direct you to the site.  Allow yourself LOTS of time ... it took me about 45 minutes to drive from Cottonwood to the front door.  If you have anything other than a Jeep or pickup, allow even more time, as the road can be quite rocky in places ... but you CAN make it!!
Remember when I asked the Bicycle Policeman how to get to those red rocks??  This is how.  I drove right up to them, as the site is located at the base of these cliffs.  As I waited for the Ranger to open the gate, I saw him walking up the road ... just about the time a bobcat crossed in front of him out of my view.  Not so lucky that time!!
Once signed up, 9 of us were taken up the trail to the left of the visitor's center to see the areas not usually viewed.  The Sinagua were here around 1100-1400, living on corn, beans and squash they planted in the area where the visitor's center is located.  One of their celebrations consisted of roasting Agave plants ... sort of like an ice cream social!!  The spines were cut off and stripped for make ropes and twine, the needles were used for sewing and the root (resembling a pineapple) was deep pit roasted.
Way in the back of this overhang, they would build a big fire and heat up rocks.  They then moved them about where I'm standing, to big holes they dug in the ground.  The agave was placed on top and the entire thing covered up and left to cook for two or three days.  Finally uncovered, the party was on!  Bits of the woody stumps were cut off, to be chewed so the sweet agave juice would be released.  Not eaten ... chewed and spit out.  There's evidence of these pieces EVERYWHERE!!
If you look close on the walls, there are many pictographs.  Not chiseled in stone as petroglyphs are, these are painted on with a mixture of plant material and bear or deer fat.  
The longer you stand and look at these, the more you see!!  Some are very old, having been dated back 5000-6000 years.  Most are around 900 years old.
These pictures of men on horses can be dated because horses didn't arrive here until the mid l500's.  There are two different family groups who resided under these overhangs, and possibly more.
Such fascinating images!!  This is Bear Cave ... can you see momma bear on the right with her two cubs??  Okay, they weren't the best artists around ... these images were made with charcoal.  Over the decades, minute creatures sit on the surface of the rocks, die and turn dark ... thus the "lacquer" over most sites and in some cases covering the entire rock, in which more Indians scratched images.  At one time, this cave was enclosed as a residence.
No one knows, or probably ever will know, what they mean.  It could be just a recording of things they have seen, it could be saying thanks for the animals you sent to us, or it could mean I had a nightmare and the bogeyman showed up!!  There are lots of snakes, which were sacred, centipedes, deer and elk, along with a few human likenesses.  
When the Indians disappeared, probably due to a severe water shortage, which meant no food, Mr. Willard came from Cottonwood after his wife passed in 1923 and set up housekeeping.  His grandfather was actually one of the Lewis and Clarke expedition.  He dismantled the Indian houses and built his own, where he lived until he could construct a proper house.  He farmed the same area the Indians did, planting a large orchard of fruit trees, a few of which still exist.
This is the water tank he constructed above his cliff house to provide running water.  I could DEFINITELY live here!!!  Mr. Willard sold the property in 1938 and died in 1957 at the age of 99.  In 1975, the Forest Service traded for this property and tried to salvage what was left of the site. 
This is the Grotto, another area that you will not normally see.  Way back when, there was a small trickle of water entering this pool from a crack in the rocks, allowing for a year round water supply for the Indians.  Since the last big earthquake here, the water has quit running.  This pool is from recent rains.  There is a calendar of sorts on the walls ... at sunrise during the summer solstice, the sun hits an exact spot on the wall marked with a circle.  There are two other marks that correspond with the sun at different "planting" times of the year.  I guess I have to believe this one, because the volunteer said he sat up here all night just to witness it.
After touring that side of the cliff for over an hour, we headed to the side that most tourists will see ... where several rock houses still survive the elements and pothunters.  Under this HUGE overhang are several two story houses built into the wall.  The roofs have all caved in since the wood pillars rotted many years ago, and some of the walls have been damaged by people scavenging for souvenirs and pots.  What remains is still an amazing example of the building skills from that time.  The entry door in the bottom left corner has been half closed with stacked rocks to keep people out.  These buildings have only survived because the overhang above is so wide, it keeps all water off the buildings.
Two of the wood lintels over the doorways are original, the rest having been replaced to keep the structures upright.  Although it looks like the door in the bottom left is closed off, that is just the back wall.  They are about 15 feet square, but not very tall.  The average height of a Sinagua man was around 5'6".
There is evidence all around you of life here ... small corn cobs, pieces of flint that came in trade and lots of pottery shards from other parts of the world.  This site has been surveyed, but never has there been an archaeological dig here.  Can you imagine what they might find???  Boy what I wouldn't give to be in on THAT!  Unfortunately however, the government has no money (because they are giving it all away to people who don't want to work) and won't allow anything to be done here.  Did I say that???
As I slowly walked down the trail back to the Visitor's Center, admiring the amazing view the Indians had of the valley below, I turned around for one quick picture of the rock overhang.  It had completely disappeared.  You would never know there was anything here at all ... and I'm less than 100 yards from the dwellings.
The surrounding mountains are just an amazing tribute to natures work.  Did I mention how much I love the desert??  So much that I'm going to try and get on the Site Host list for this area.  Yes, it's a long bumpy road to drive in a motorhome, but I'm pretty sure I can get in and out without much trouble.  They have two rigs here at all times to keep poachers away, and I'm a good shot, so I hope I can get on the list!!
One last little creature joined me in my rig ... I FINALLY found a little stuffed turkey vulture for the mobile Buzzards Roost castle.  He's not the prettiest thing, but neither are the namesakes of my home!!
I'm off again to the Clemenceau Museum to get the specifics on the American Craft Fair they are holding this weekend, as well as check out one of the best model railroad setups in the country.  


  1. GREST POST, after reading you blog the last few day I have to put Cottonwood on my todo list.
    Jim M.

    1. You won't be sorry Jim!! There's lots of interesting history here!!