If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday. ~Pearl Buck
This place was once teaming with life. There were families who made their homes here. They worked the fields together. The men returned home with big game to this very place. There were births, marriages, and deaths celebrated and mourned here for over 250 years. People, like me, stand here now and wonder what kind of life these people, called the Sinagua, lived. These were my thoughts as I visited the Palatki Heritage Site in the Verde Valley.
My husband and I love history. O.k., me more than him. I was so stoked to visit these heritage sites. Before visiting, all I could think was that I was going be like the dude from America Unearthed. I was going to get to look at ancient “clues” of what America was really like once upon a time. Yeah, in my flashes of coolness, I forgot that I don’t have the education and training to fully appreciate what I see. It’s all good, though. I still had fun.
Palatki Heritage Site
Our first stop was at Palatki. We payed five bucks for a parking pass and we were in. Our tour guide was a man named Jim. He was really informative and had a great personality. At Palatki, there were two different sites. One was the dwelling ruins and the other was the pictographs at the Grotto site and the agave roasting pit.
The coolest thing about the dwelling site was how the Sinagua picked where to build their homes. They chose an alcove with an overhang to naturally protect them from rain. They also picked the precise area where the entire structure gets full sun in December and in June the overhang protects them with its shade.
When we were finished looking at the ruins we took the short walk over to the Grotto Site where the pictographs are.
The most distinctive markings were over the agave roasting pit. They had originally been white, but turned to black due to the heat and smoke from use of the pit.
We were so excited that we stayed after the tour and talked Jim’s head off about what some of the symbols could mean, why the Sinagua practically vanished from the area, and where we could find a really big cactus to have our picture made with. That’s the only thing our daughter wanted us to do; to send her a picture of us with a cactus. When we finally left, it was too late to check out any of the other sites. We had to wait until the next day.
V-Bar-V Heritage Site
Early the next morning, we headed over to the V-Bar-V Heritage Site. Good Ole’ Jim recommended the place to us after I explained we had studied petroglyphs in home school a few years back. I thought it would be neat to see some and have pictures to show the kids and talk about.
The V-Bar-V is not only known for the Sinaguan petroglyphs, but also for its history as a working ranch. The Coconino National Forest acquired it in a land exchange around 1994.
We checked in with the office, paid for our five buck parking pass, and headed out on the short walk to the petroglyphs. All of the remnants from the ranch made the walk interesting. There was a large chimney where the house used to stand, old fence posts and gates here and there, and other remains of past structures. I could just imagine the cowboys working the ranch and the cattle roaming along the creek. There I go daydreaming again….
Upon arrival at the petroglyph site, we realized the tour guide, named Jim (a different Jim from the day before), was already in the middle of his description of the petroglyphs and what they could possibly mean. I guess we spent too much time on the path up to the site. My daydreaming has always gotten me in trouble. Anyway, I drank in the rest of what Jim had to say. One thing I found interesting was the Kokopelli. Jim said he was humpback, but he was also supposed to be a womanizer and a sign of fertility. Since the Kokopelli played the flute, Jim gave us an example of what the Sinagua flute sounds like. It was beautiful!
Jim also told us a little about the Sinagua/Hopi culture. Men didn’t own anything. Women did. Everything was passed to the daughters instead of the sons. I really like this idea. It’s a great way to provide for daughters and ensure they are taken care of, no matter what kind of man they marry or what the future holds. The last interesting thing about V-Bar-V is that they took this big rock and made a solar calendar out of it. They realized that it’s naturally in the perfect location. They worked a few stones into the exact position they wanted and, “Tada!” A solar calendar. These people were so smart.
Next, we went to the Montezuma Well. We payed for the, yet another, five buck parking pass and hiked up the trail to the well. The first thing I noticed was a dwelling built into the side of the cliff above the water. When I say the side of a cliff, that’s what I mean.
Unless there was a ledge that eroded away, these guys had to use some kind of rope ladders to get into and out of their home. We walked down the trail to the area beside the water where we found more dwelling remains. The thing I found odd about those remains is that the openings into the dwellings was equivalent to what we call a crawl space. I’m not sure what was up with that. The well, itself, is pretty impressive. More than 1.5 million gallons flow into the well. Every. Single. Day. The water is also a constant 74 degrees. Another fun fact about the well water is – it’s FULL of leaches. Yeah, I stayed away from the water’s edge.
We checked out Montezuma’s Castle last. It was highly recommended to me by a lady I met at Palatki. I was wearing my South Carolina emblem ( the palm tree and crescent moon) shirt, (I had to represent), when she asked where I was from. When I explained that I live in North Carolina, but am originally a South Carolina girl, she nodded and said, “I knew it. I showed my husband your shirt and he said you probably just visited, but I knew you were from South Carolina by all the bright colors you’re wearing.” She knew what to look for because she was from Charleston. Anyway, the Castle is absolutely amazing. The fact that almost a thousand years ago , people could build a 5 story, 20 room dwelling in the side of a rock, 100 feet above the ground, astounds me. First of all, I’m not sure why you would want to, unless you just want to show how awesome you are. Second, I can’t help but wonder who lived there. There were other dwelling remains along the base of the cliff. I read that it was a massive 5 story apartment, with maybe 45 rooms. It makes me wonder how their social hierarchy was made up. How did they decide who lived where?
I am convinced of one thing. The Sinagua were not simple minded. They knew exactly how and where to pick the best living spaces. They also knew how to recognize the potential for a solar calendar and create one. And, seriously, with all of our engineers and architects, optimal building materials, and high tech machinery – how long would it take us to replicate the Montezuma Castle?
At the end of the day, I was totally wiped out. We ended our 2nd full day in Arizona with lots of history to ponder and fun to remember. No rest for the weary, we had family to meet up with and a birthday to celebrate!