Discover & Explore Northern Arizona

There’s much to see and do in Northern Arizona in addition to the Grand Canyon, particularly if you have an interest in Native American history and culture.

Meteor Crater from the sky (Credit: meteorcrater.com)
Meteor Crater from the sky (Credit: meteorcrater.com)

Flagstaff is also a jumping off point for day trips to see ancient petroglyphs, the ancient rock art of the Native Americans, as well as several unique attractions ranging from the Petrified Forest National Park and Monument Valley, one of the most scenic locations in the American Southwest, to the Meteor Crater, the best preserved crater created by a meteorite in the world where NASA Astronauts have trained.

While many travelers zoom through Flagstaff on their way to the Grand Canyon, the city is home to one of the country’s oldest astronomical observatories, Lowell Observatory, as well as one of the nation’s best museums of Native American art and culture, Museum of Northern Arizona.

Following is a sampling of some of the more interesting attractions in Northern Arizona.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater is the breath-taking result of a collision between a piece of an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour and planet Earth approximately 50,000 years ago. Today, Meteor Crater is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep.

It is an international tourist venue with outdoor observation trails, air conditioned indoor viewing, wide screen movie theater, interactive discovery center, unique gift and rock shop, and Astronaut Memorial Park at the modern Visitor Center located on the crater rim.

The visitor center is located off I-40 at exit 233 (35 miles east of Flagstaff, 20 miles west of Winslow), Meteor Crater Road, then 6 miles south on the paved road.

The full-service RV park is located at the Interstate exit.

Museum of Northern Arizona

The Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona. (Credit: musnaz.org)
The Kiva Gallery at the Museum of Northern Arizona. (Credit: musnaz.org)

The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff provides an excellent introduction to the Native people who live in Northern Arizona, especially the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. The museum’s permanent anthropology exhibit documents 12,000 years of Native American tribal life on the Colorado Plateau.

The museum also offers two-day festivals that feature the music, dance and artwork of Native American tribes. These include the 81st Annual Hopi Festival of Arts and Culture, July 5–6; and the 65th Annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture, August 2–3.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory is a private, nonprofit, research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. A national historic landmark, Lowell is one of the oldest observatories in the United States.

Research conducted at this observatory had led to several important discoveries, including the realization that the universe is expanding; the discovery by Lowell of the planet Pluto in 1930; the co-discovery of the rings of Uranus in 1977; the discovery of periodic variations in the brightness of Halley’s Comet; and the first detection of water in the atmosphere of an extra-solar planet.

Lowell Observatory is located in Flagstaff at a 7,200-foot elevation.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano was born in a series of eruptions sometime between 1040 and 1100. Powerful explosions profoundly affected the lives of local people and forever changed the landscape and ecology of the area.

Lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed. But among dramatic geologic features, you’ll find trees, wildflowers, and signs of wildlife—life has returned.

Self-guided Lava Flow Trail is a one-mile loop through the Bonito Lava Flow at the base of Sunset Crater.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki National Monument preserves more than 800 identified ruins. (Credit: nationalparks.org)
Wupatki National Monument preserves more than 800 identified ruins. (Credit: nationalparks.org)

Wupatki National Monument preserves many free-standing masonry pueblos, field houses, rock art, pottery, baskets, and tools. In total there are more than 800 identified ruins spread around many miles of desert within the monument, but five of the largest—Wupatki, Wukoki. Citadel, and Nalakihu—are close to the main road and these are the only sites open to visitors.

All the dwellings were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Indians during the 12th and 13th centuries

Wupatki is reached by the same loop road that passes Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, adjoining the main north-south route US 89.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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Inscription Rock: El Morro National Monument, NM

“Paso por aqui, el adelantado Don Juan de Oñate, del descubrimiento de la mar del sur a 16 de Abril de 1605.”

El Morro is Spanish for headland or bluff. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Translated, the inscription proclaims: “Passed by here, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South the 16th of April of 1605.”

While Oñate’s inscription is the oldest Spanish carving found on El Morro, he was not the first Spaniard to see the mesa. In March 1583, Diego Pérez de Luxan, chronicler of an exploring expedition led by Antonio de Espejo, recorded in his journal that the party had camped at a location he called El Estanque de Peñol (The Place at the Great Rock).

However, no record of the expedition’s passing has been found on the mesa.

People had been carving messages on Inscription Rock in the high desert of northwestern New Mexico for centuries before de Oñate, the first Spanish Conquistador to organize a colony in New Mexico, came along.

The Spanish reigned in New Mexico for nearly 200 years. After being driven out by the Pueblo Rebellion of 1680, they took back control twelve years later and ruled for generations.

General de Vargas recorded his victory in this way:

“Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith and for the Royal Crown all of New Mexico at his own expense, year of 1692.”

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final inscription in Spanish was dated 1774. The Spanish lost control of their North American territories to the Mexicans who in turn lost them to the United States during the Mexican-American War of the 1840s.

At the close of the Mexican War in 1848, New Mexico became a U.S. territory, and the arrival of the Americans opened a new chapter in El Moro’s long history.

In 1849, Lt. James Simpson, an Army topographical engineer, and Richard Kern, an artist, were the first Americans to carve their names on El Morro. More significantly, however, Kern sketched many of the inscriptions and brought them to national attention.

After Simpson and Kern, many American wagon trains carrying emigrants to California passed and, as the Anasazi and Spaniards did before them, they left a record of their presence.

On a daytrip from Sky Casino RV Park, we visited El Morro National Monument. El Morro is Spanish for headland or bluff.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

The main thing to see is Inscription Loop Trail, a half mile walk past numerous Spanish and Anglo inscriptions, as well as pre–historic petroglyphs.

Before venturing out be sure to view the short informative film in the visitor center and pick up a copy of the trail guide to assist you in spotting and understanding the various inscriptions.

Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can continue your walk up to the top of the mesa for some great views and to see the partially-excavated ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan village.

Did You Know?
El Morro National Monument’s avian claim to fame is the White-throated Swift, which was described to science for the very first time here in 1851, by Dr. S. W. Woodhouse of the Sitgreaves Expedition.

El Morro National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $3/person (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Elevation: 7,219 feet

Location: From I-40 west of Grants, take Exit 81 south on Highway 53 for 42 miles to El Morro National Monument.

Camping: NO camping facilities

Address: HC 61 Box 43, Ramah, NM 87321

Contact:(505) 783-4226

Worth Pondering…

I am part of all that I have met

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro

Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades

Forever and forever when I move.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

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Trail of the Ancients: A Journey worth Taking, Part 2

From Natural Bridges National Monument where we ended the first part of our incredible journey of discovery, the Trail of the Ancient Scenic Byway turns south at the junction with Highways 95 and 261. Along this route you’ll find access to Grand Gulch Primitive Area and hiking trails on the mesa top.

The infamous Moki Dugway is a 3-mile stretch of gravel road that descends 1,000 feet down tight switchbacks from the edge of Cedar Mesa into the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prior to dropping off the Moki Dugway is County Road 274, a 5-mile remote dirt road leading to Muley Point which has been listed by National Geographic as one of the most outstanding views in America. From its magnificent overlook you’ll peer deep into the San Juan River Canyon and onto Monument Valley 25 miles or so in the distance.

The infamous Moki Dugway is a 3-mile stretch of gravel road that descends 1,000 feet down tight switchbacks from the edge of Cedar Mesa into the Valley of the Gods. The dugway itself is a historic part of the trail, built during the uranium boom to accommodate ore trucks that traveled from the mines on Cedar Mesa to the mill near the Navajo community of Halchita across the San Juan River from Mexican Hat. Never planned for public use, Moki Dugway is not recommended for RV travel.

From the bottom of the Dugway the route continues past the entrance to the little-known Valley of the Gods and onto the junction with Utah Highway 316 which leads to Goosenecks State Park.

Although Valley of the Gods is not listed as a site on the Trail, it is worth visiting. The 17-mile loop drive on a native surface road leads among sandstone monoliths which have been given fanciful names such as Seven Sailors, Southern Lady, Rooster Butte, and Battleship Butte. The valley allows a close-up look at towers and mesas of multicolored sandstone and other sedimentary rocks in subtle shades of pink, red, gold, orange, and purple. The sandstone monoliths here are reminiscent of Monument Valley. This route puts travelers on Highway 163, between Bluff and Mexican Hat.

Late afternoon light enhances the colors through the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goosenecks State Park is another adventure in geology revealing the skeleton of the earth in the layers formed by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River is one of the most striking examples of an “entrenched river meander” in North America. Like a snake the river twists and turns and coils back on itself for a distance of over six miles while advancing only 1.5 miles west as it flows toward Lake Powell. Over 300 million years of geologic activity is revealed from Goosenecks State Park. Located at the end of Highway 316, Gooseneck is a wilderness park encompassing 10 acres.

Utah Highway 261 continues to the junction with U.S. Highway 163 and the town of Mexican Hat. At the junction turn right to enter Mexican Hat and on to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park where sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor.

Founded in the early part of the 20th century during an oil boom, Mexican Hat has a population of less than 100 and functions mostly as a stopover point for visitors on their way to Monument Valley or as a base for river expeditions.

Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in countless Western movies directed by John Ford. An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

The Goulding Trading Post established in 1932 in Monument Valley is worth a visit. A full-service RV park is located nearby. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

After exploring the wonders of Monument Valley retrace your route for 21 miles to Mexican Hat on U.S. Highway 163 and continue east to the pioneer-era town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Nation. Snuggled up against the San Juan River, the town was settled by the famous “Hole-In-The-Rock” expedition of Mormon pioneers in the 1880s.

Continue past Bluff and travel east on Utah Highway 262 towards the town of Aneth and follow the signs to Hovenweep National Monument at the end of our route.

Known for its square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers, Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric clusters of Native American ruins. Established in 1923, the villages date from the Pueblo period of the mid 13th century. They are spread over a 20-mile area along the Utah-Colorado border. Unlike the large ruins at Mesa Verde, these are approachable and the visitor can wander among the fallen walls and consider the people who built them.

On this note we end our fascinating discovery of an ancient land of incredible beauty.

Worth Pondering…
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

—Henry Miller

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Trail of the Ancients: A Journey worth Taking

Spring is here. No really, it is (don’t pay attention to the weather on this one). And that means that thoughts of a spring road trip are probably popping into the forefront of your mind.

Some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest are found in Monument Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far too often we see the roads we traverse purely as a means to get from point A to point B. Most spend far more hours in their cars commuting and running errands than truly enjoying what lies beyond the edge of the asphalt or concrete.

But once you hit the road in your recreational vehicle, why not get off the roads most traveled and take in the breath-taking splendor of America’s system of scenic byways?

The National Scenic Byways Program recognizes over 100 outstanding byways that celebrate the pride and diversity of our communities as well as the stunning landscapes that have shaped our lives.

Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway

This federally designated National Scenic Byway circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country of southeastern Utah, providing opportunity to view scenic landscapes, archaeological, cultural, and historic sites, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments, Monument Valley, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Manti La Sal National Forest. It’s a land filled with 250-million-year-old rock formations, mysterious Anasazi ruins, and remnants of long-ago Mormon pioneer families, all but undiscovered by crowds of tourists.

An extension of this route continues into Colorado, to Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence.

A trail into the canyon underneath Owachomu Natural Bridge is a short distance from the overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The byways program recommends a minimum of five days to explore the route. Shorter and longer trips can also be enjoyable.

Start at any point along the route.

The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway enters Utah east of Monticello on U.S. Highway 491 and continues to the junction in Monticello with U.S. Highway 191.

Turn south onto U.S. 191 and travel to Blanding where you find Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, a good stop for an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pre-history of the area. Visitors can walk the paths through the ruin and climb into the kiva via a ladder, just as the original residents did. Exceptionally rare and well-preserved artifacts are at the heart of the museum exhibits.

From Blanding the route follows U.S. Highway 191 south to the junction with Utah Highway 95 and continues west on Highway 95 to Utah Highway 261 passing Butler Wash Ruin, Mule Canyon Ruin, and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Butler Wash Ruins, about 10.5 miles west of Blanding, has cliff-type dwellings located under rocky overhangs in a lush green valley along the river. An easy half-mile hike allows closer views.

Eight miles further west along Highway 95 brings you to Mule Canyon Indian Ruins at milepost 101. Adjacent to the road, the site contains dwelling units, a reconstructed open kiva, and round tower—all made of stone.

Meandering streams cut through sandstone walls to create Kachina Bridge..© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a few more miles and you’re at Natural Bridges National Monument about 35 miles west of Blanding. Located atop a 5,500- to 6,500-foot mesa a nine-mile, one-way, paved loop road winds through the park, revealing spectacular views of deep pinyon-filled canyons with scattered ancient cliff dwellings and three of the world’s largest natural stone bridges. Bridges differ from arches in that they are created primarily by stream action; whereas arches are created primarily by rain and wind.

The bridges in this monument are all easily viewed from overlook areas along Bridge View Drive, or you can hike down into the canyon and walk under them. Interpretive signing is present at each overlook.

Horsecollar Ruin Overlook Trail is mostly level and leads over the mesa to the edge of White Canyon. The small cliff dwelling is unique in that it is still plastered. The doorways to the two granaries are shaped like the horsecollars used in harness equipment. The ruin also contains a kiva.

A small campground is limited to RVs less than 26 feet, but an overflow area on the edge of the park has plenty of room.

To be continued…

Worth Pondering…
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.

—Marcel Proust, French novelist

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High Rise Apartment: Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ

Montezuma Castle, a five-level cliff dwelling nestled into a limestone alcove high above the flood plain of Beaver Creek, isn’t a castle and has nothing to do with Montezuma.

It’s NOT a castle and Montezuma was never here! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The misattribution is traced to the 1870s, when explorers, doubting that the area’s indigenous people could have built such elaborate structures 150 feet up a sheer cliff, deemed the dwellings as magnificent as the Aztec ruins in Mexico. Furthermore, the castle was abandoned almost a century before Montezuma was born.

On December 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Montezuma Castle one of the country’s first national monuments, maintaining and protecting the cultural resource.

The five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling dates back to approximately 1150 and served as a “high-rise apartment building” for prehistoric Sinagua Indians.

The Anasazi that lived and farmed in the Flagstaff area hundreds of years ago was named the “Sinagua” by archeologists because of the absence of water in that area. When archeologists began studying the culture that had lived in the Verde Valley they realized that these people were also members of the Sinagua culture.

Montezuma Castle was not an isolated structure where people lived generation after generation, having little contact with neighbors. The Castle instead was a small, but very dramatic, part of a larger community of people spread up and down the waterways of the Verde Valley. As many as 6,000 to 8,000 people may have lived in the valley in small villages no more than several miles apart.

The Castle
Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay often served as the floor of the next room built on top. Entrance to most areas was usually from a hole in the roof.

The white-barked Arizona Sycamore is one of the most distinctive sights at Montezuma Castle often reaching heights of 80 feet. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is little evidence of conflict or warfare but perhaps people felt more secure living in the Castle. The series of ladders used to climb to the site could be pulled in for the night. A small ruin above the Castle, on the top of the cliff, provides views of the entire countryside—a sentry would have advance warning of anyone entering the area.

Arizona Sycamore
The white-barked Arizona Sycamore is one of the most distinctive sights at Montezuma Castle often reaching heights of 80 feet. This tree once blanketed Arizona 63 million years ago when the climate was cool and moist. As the weather became drier these deciduous trees thrived only in areas close to permanent water, such as the perennial streams and canyon bottoms.

Some amazing adaptations help the Arizona Sycamore survive from seedling to old age—at least 200 years. Each fruit pod contains an average of 667 seeds with a protective coating designed to withstand seasonal flooding.

Self-guided Trail
A self-guided, 1/3-mile loop trail leads past the cliff dwelling, through a beautiful grove of Arizona sycamores and along spring-fed Beaver Creek, one of only a few perennial streams in Arizona.

Visitors Center
There is a small Visitors Center that contains a museum displaying artifacts. Here visitors can learn more about the pottery, textiles, and other aspects of the Sinagua. Southwest Parks and Monuments Association also runs a small bookstore in the Visitor Center.

Ranger programs are offered daily. Ask a ranger at the park visitor center for details on times and locations of these programs.

Visitors to Montezuma Castle will not want to miss Montezuma Well.

Did You Know?
The Sinagua, who inhabited the area in and around Montezuma Castle National Monument, created beautiful pottery and textiles. Many of the artifacts found here are on display in the museum.

Details

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., extended hours in summer

Montezuma Castle is a five-level cliff dwelling nestled into a limestone alcove. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission: Adults $5.00 (valid for seven days), children (under 16) free; passes are available at a discounted rate of $8.00 for both Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle national monuments (If you are planning on visiting both parks, ask for this discounted pass when you purchase your entrance fee at either park); no entrance fee for visiting Montezuma Well

Climate: Summers in the Verde Valley are generally hot and dry, although, it often cools down considerably at night; winters can be snowy at times with temperatures ranging between 14-45 degrees

Location: Montezuma Castle is three miles east of I-17 via Exit 289

Directions: Drive east to Camp Verde to a flashing red light (Montezuma Castle Road) and turn left and follow the signs to the parking area

Camping: NO camping facilities

Address: P. O. Box 219, Camp Verde, Arizona  86322

Contact: (928) 567-3322

Worth Pondering…
Alone in the open desert,
I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.
The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.
I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.
I have seemed to be at one with the world.
—Everett Ruess

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Arizona State Park Saved: Homolovi Reopens

In an earlier post (Homolovi, AZ: What’s in a Name?), I reported that cooperation between the Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Parks would soon result in the reopening of Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Hopi entered into a one-year agreement with Arizona State Parks, contributing $175,000 for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow. The state will pay the remaining $48,000 to operate the park for a year. The park will retain fees collected from visitors.

Hopi female dancer. Photo courtesy Todd Roth/Navajo Hopi Observer

The city of Winslow and Navajo County were also involved in efforts to reopen the park.
The agreement with the Hopi Tribe allows for two one-year extensions.
If the park isn’t profitable, it could close again.

The park, originally home to the Hisat’sinom (the “long-ago people,” better known as the Anasazi), which encompasses seven ancestral Hopi pueblos that were occupied from about 1260 to 1400, officially reopened yesterday (March 18).

State Park System

Homolovi was one of 13 state parks forced to padlock its gates as a result of statewide fiscal problems.

By February 2010, a phased series of park closures was started with Homolovi Ruins one of the first to close to the public.

But state officials worked to get financial commitments from counties and community groups to temporarily keep several parks open. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is being operated in conjunction with Santa Cruz County and the Tubac Historical Society. McFarland State Historic Park is being operated by the town of Florence and the Florence Main Street project, a non-profit tasked with improving the local economy.

Yes, Homolovi has reopened!

With Homolovi reopened, only three state parks remain closed—Oracle State Park in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, Lyman Lake State Park in northeastern Arizona, and San Rafael State Natural Area near the Arizona-Mexico border. State park officials have indicated they are hopeful that an agreement will be in place to reopen Lyman during the summer.

Name Change

The Arizona Parks Board reported that during initial negotiations this past November, the Hopi Tribe requested the word “Ruins” be replaced with another word or removed from the park’s name.

To the Hopi, the word “Ruin” in the park name refers to ‘something dead.’

The state park is the ancestral homeland for the tribe. Tribal members still use the site and consider it to be spiritually alive.

The parks board voted unanimously Thursday (March 17), during its meeting in Winslow to drop the word “Ruins” from Homolovi Ruins State Park. The park will also have a new tagline that reads, “ancestral Hopi villages.”

Place of the Little Hills

Large Kiva at Homolovi II. Photo courtesy freeopinions, Flickr

Homolovi State Park, located on State Route 87 just north of Interstate 40, is 4,000 acres in size and has a visitor center, pull-outs for observing wildlife, picnic tables, and camping facilities.

Homolovi, a Hopi word meaning “place of the little hills,” features a cluster of some 300 archaeological sites including several separate pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric peoples from 1250–1400. The park serves as a center of research for tribal migration of that time period and while archaeologists study the area and confer with the Hopi to unravel area history, Arizona State Parks provided an opportunity for visitors to personally experience two of the seven ruins.

Most visited, Homolovi II, the largest excavated site with about 1,200 rooms, 40 kivas or underground ceremonial chambers, clusters of pit houses, and three large plazas. Petroglyphs can be found along certain sections of the nearby Tsu’vo Trail.

Many of the early peoples paused their migrations to stay awhile in these high grasslands and find a home along the Little Colorado River, tilling the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join peoples already living on the mesas, peoples known today as the Hopi.

The migrations ended when the people settled at the center-of-the-world, the Hopi Mesas north of the park. Today’s Hopi tribal members, referred to as the world’s greatest dry farmers, still consider Homolovi and other Southwestern pre-Columbian sites to be part of their homeland and make pilgrimages to the locations to renew ties with the people of the land.

Location and directions
Homolovi State Park is located 3 miles northeast of Winslow

Take I-40 to Exit 257, then travel 1.3 miles north on Highway 87

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

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Homolovi, AZ: What’s in a Name?

Arizona could soon rename and reopen an existing state park.  It’s a protected area that already has a state park designation but operating under a different name.

Homolovi II is the largest of the sites at the park. It appears that each family unit occupied four to five rooms. Each room is relatively small, probably due to the scarcity of large logs. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks

The Hopi Tribe recently entered into a one-year agreement with Arizona State Parks, contributing $175,000 for the operation of Homolovi Ruins State Park. The Arizona Parks Board reported that during initial negotiations in November, the Hopi Tribe requested the word “Ruins” be taken out of the park’s name.

To the Hopi, the word “Ruin” in the park name refers to ‘something dead.’ They would prefer “Ruin” be replaced with another word or removed.

The State Parks Board is open to any suggestions the public may have to offer about this name change and will discuss the matter at the March 17, 2011 public Board meeting in Winslow City Council Chambers.

Those with suggestions and comments on the name change may also send a message to the “Contact Us” tab at azstateparks.gov or write a letter to Arizona State Parks Public Information Office, 1300 West Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85007. All comments must be received by March 1, 2011.

Ancestral Hopi Villages

In the high grassland of 14th century northern Arizona, an ancient people found a home along the Little Colorado River. These people, the Hisat’sinom (known to archaeologists as the Anasazi), paused in their migrations to till the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join people already living on the mesas, people who are today known as the Hopi.

Hopi dancers perform for the public during Suvoyuki Days. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks

The Hopi people of today still consider Homolovi, as well as other precolumbian sites in the southwest, to be part of their homeland. They continue to make pilgrimages to these sites, renewing the ties of the people with the land. The Hopi tell us that the broken pottery and stones are now part of the land and are the trail the Bahana will follow when he returns. Therefore, these are mute reminders that the Hopi continue to follow the true Hopi way and the instructions of Masau’u.

The years have brought many changes to Homolovi. The migrations ended when the people settled at the center of the world, the Hopi Mesas north of Homolovi. However, as new people appeared, such as the Diné (Navajo) and later the Europeans, the Hopi watched as their homeland was occupied by the new people.

In an effort to protect some of these sites, the Hopi people supported the idea of Homolovi Ruins State Park. This idea resulted in the establishment of the park in 1986 and the opening of the park in 1993.

Homolovi Ruins State Park now serves as a center of research for the late migration period of the Hopi from the 1200s to the late 1300s. While archaeologists study the sites and confer with the Hopi to unravel the history of Homolovi, Arizona State Parks provides the opportunity for visitors to visit the sites and use park facilities including a visitor center and museum, various trails, and a campground. Several covered picnic tables are located throughout the park. Pullouts provide the opportunity to observe wildlife in this park of over 4,000 acres at an elevation of 4,900 feet.

The Visitors Center also houses a gift shop that sells Hopi pottery and other handcrafted goods. Photo courtesy Arizona State Parks.

“Homolovi” is Hopi for “Place of the Little Hills”—the traditional name for Winslow, Arizona.

Park Re-Opening Celebration

The Hopi Tribe and Arizona State Parks invite the public to attend the Park Re-Opening Celebration on March 18, 2011. Gain insight into the cultural perspectives, lifestyle, language, celebrations, and history of the Hopi Tribe and learn about visitor etiquette on Hopi lands. Planned activities include lectures, pottery firing demonstrations, and traditional Hopi social dances. Take an archeological tour of pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric people, including ancestors of the Hopi people.

Enjoy learning from carvers, painters, jewelers, potters, and basket and textile weavers while hearing Hopi history through storytelling, music, and dancing, and enjoy interpretive exhibits.

This re-opening celebration is a co-operative effort of many organizations — Sumi’nangwa or “All together”.

On March 19, walking tours will be under the direction of and guided by Dr. Chuck Adams and Richard Lange, from the Arizona State Museum.

This event is part of Arizona Archaeology & Heritage Awareness Month.

Location and directions
Homolovi Ruins State Park is located 3 miles northeast of Winslow

Take I-40 to Exit 257, then travel 1.3 miles north on Highway 87

Worth Pondering…
For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

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Big House: Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, AZ

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona.

This three-story "Great House" is the largest single building left from the Hohokan culture © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the first Europeans arrived, all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande, or “Big House,” one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

A giant steel awning protects what is left of the three-floor “Great House,” the largest single building left from the Hohokam culture, which thrived in the Sonoran Desert until about 1450, when it mysteriously disappeared.

The early Spanish named the Indians of southern Arizona the Pima and Papago. In their own language they are the Akimel O’Odham and the Tohono O’Odham. They may be the descendants of the Hohokam.

The building dominates the landscape—it can be spotted from at least five miles away when driving Arizona Highway 87 toward Coolidge.

Nearly 3,000 tons of caliche went into the four-story structure. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly 3,000 tons of caliche went into the four-story structure. The Hohokams lacked stones or other good building materials in the desert so they went a few feet down, using caliche, an underground layer of soil whose particles are cemented together by lime. Beams were hewed out of juniper, pine, and fir which were brought from the mountains more than 50 miles away.

Archaeologists believe that the “Great House” was an astronomical observatory, noting that the small round window on the west wall aligns perfectly with the setting sun on the annual summer solstice (June 21). Other openings line up with the sun and moon at significant dates throughout the year.

Archaeologists do not know all the reasons for the decline and end of Hohokam culture. Recent findings indicate that a series of devastating floods in the 1350s and 1380s may well have played a role in the breakdown of Hohokam economic and political systems.

Stop by the visitor center to get a brochure, take the self-guided tour, and stay for one of the informative talks given by a park ranger on the history of the Casa Grande ruins.

A pair of great horned owls call the Casa Grande home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you peer high up into the beams, you’ll likely spot a pair of great horned owls that call the Casa Grande home.

Casa Grande Ruins is in Coolidge on State Highway 87, about 12 miles east of I-10 (Exit 185).

Worth Pondering…
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
—Mark Twain

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Place in the Rocks: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ, Part 2

Driving the canyon rims and viewing the canyon from the overlooks is an excellent introduction to Canyon de Chelly and gives you an idea of how else you might want to explore the canyon.

South Rim Drive

Offering panoramic views of the canyons, this drive is an excellent way to get the feel of the canyon. From the visitor center to the last overlook is about 16 miles one-way. There are seven overlooks from which to view Canyon de Chelly. Watch for changes in vegetation and geology as the elevation rises from 5,500 feet at the visitor center to 7,000 feet at Spider Rock.

Allow two to three hours for this drive—and considerably longer, if you’re a photographer.

Junction Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The third overlook, Junction, affords the first look at the canyon’s depth, and the signs warn that it’s a sheer drop of 600 feet to the bottom. Junction has views of Chinle Valley and the confluence of Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly.

The scenery elevates to spectacular at the Sliding Rock Overlook, about 700 feet above the canyon floor and site of ruins that once slipped off the canyon walls.

Face Rock Overlook is even higher and sort of a prelude to arguably the most magnificent of all—Spider Rock Overlook.

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. From here you can see the volcanic core of Black Rock Butte and the Chuska Mountains on the horizon.

Spider Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to legend, Spider Woman taught the Navajo how to weave and now lives on top of the spire that is covered with white limestone. The legend says the white stuff is the bones of bad children who were carried off by Spider Woman.

North Rim Drive

Also worthwhile, but not quite as scenic, the North Rim Drive has only three overlooks from which to view Canyon del Muerto. Some of the most beautiful cliff dwellings are along this 34-mile route from start to finish.

Allow a minimum of two hours for this drive.

Antelope House Ruin is named for the illustrations of antelope attributed to Navajo artist Dibe Yazhi (Little Sheep) who lived here in the early 1800s.

White House Trail

Sharing the White House Trail with a Navajo family herding sheep. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a superb hike. For your efforts you’ll get an up-close look at White House ruins, mentioned in the Navajo Night Chant as “white house in between”. The trail begins at the White House Overlook and is a two- or three-mile round trip, depending on which signs you believe. Allow two to three hours to complete the trail. The drop from the rim to the canyon floor is 600 feet. Since the trail is considered moderately strenuous, hiking boots are recommended. Ensure you take plenty of drinking water, especially if you’re hiking in the summer’s heat. Pets are not allowed on the trail.

Camping

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center, was a wonderful surprise. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. We had no difficulty is finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Photo tips

Ask permission before taking photos of the Navajo people, their homes, or animals.

Although you’ll read in park brochure that lighting for photos is best on the North Rim in the morning, and on the South Rim in the afternoon, don’t believe it.

For the best photos of Spider Rock arrive at the overlook shortly after sunrise or in mid-afternoon, when the shadows are long and definitive.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: Non-fee area; Navajo guide required to drive into the canyon bottom.

Pets: Not allowed on White House Trail

Elevation: 5,500 at the visitor center to over 7,000 feet

Location: From Highway 191at Chinle drive east 3 miles

Camping: Non-fee area

Address: PO Box 588, Chinle, AZ 86503

Contact: (928) 674-5500

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

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Place in the Rocks: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ

From the mesa east of Chinle on the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Sliding Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. People have lived here for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, occupies a unique place in the heritage of native American Indians. You can drive the park rims by yourself and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

The word ‘de Chelly’ is a corruption of the Navajo word “Tsegi,” meaning “the place in the rocks”.

The word Chegui was found in Spanish diaries referring to the canyon and was probably spelled according to what was heard. As American settlers moved to the Southwest they also adopted the Spanish name, Chegui. Once again, settlers mispronounced and misspelled Chegui, assuming it was the Spanish word for canyon, hence Canyon de Chelly.

The town of Chinle, on the other hand, was named for its location. The Navajo chief, Ch’inli’, referred to the mouth of the canyon where the water flows out. As with many towns around the reservation, Chinle began as a trading post in 1882. Traders influenced missionaries, schools, and government agencies to set up near trading posts as that was where people gathered. Chinle’s first mission was established in 1904 and the first government school in 1910.

Anasazi, who are believed to be the ancestors of modern Hopi and Pueblo Indians, built intricate homes here between 1100 and 1300, using adobe bricks carved from the soft red sandstone. Some of the dwellings were up to five stories high and housed 30 to 40 families. Several sites include kivas—large round rooms dug into the ground, used for ceremonies.

Face Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After seeing the amazing cliff dwellings, and the beautiful canyon itself, we would definitely return in a heart-beat, and there’s no question about putting it high on our ‘Top 10 List’.

Canyon de Chelly far exceeded our expectations.

Self-guided drives

Driving the canyon rims and viewing the canyon from the overlooks is an excellent introduction to Canyon de Chelly and gives you an idea of how else you might want to explore the canyon.

To assist you, a motoring guide and a trail guide are available at the bookstore in the visitor center.

 

Did You Know?
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is comprised entirely of Navajo tribal trust land with a resident community within the canyons. A backcountry permit and authorized guide are required to enter the canyon except for the White House Trail.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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