Sinagua Pueblo Picture of the Week

Sinagua Pueblo - A two room stacked-stone ruin that the Sinagua people used for ceremonial purposes.
Sinagua Pueblo – A two-room stacked-stone ruin that the Sinagua people used for ceremonial purposes.

When Queen Anne and I married, we lived most of a decade in a second-floor condo. Besides living in cramped quarters, the thing we most disdained was lugging groceries from the parking lot and up those stairs. My right knee cracked with each step. We swore then that we’d never live in a two-story house.

The Sinagua people would’ve considered us Snowflakes. Imagine your family living in a small cave with a plastered rock façade built on the side of Walnut Canyon. They scaled the canyon walls (without stairs) to get to work. Once on top, the men tended small patches of fertile soil along the edge. They grew drought-resistant crops because their name means Without Water. At least, the Spanish called them that when they first visited the canyon. For protein, they hunted deer, elk, and big horn sheep. After butchering the game, they stuffed the meat into Safeway plastic bags and lowered it on ropes.

Given my extreme age, my most significant anxiety would be getting up in the middle of the night for a glass of Water. As it is, I struggle to find our kitchen in the dark, much less climb down to the creek and back. Of course, their local wise man was in his thirties, and he knew when to stand up and declare, “Today is a good day to die.” Then as he tossed his blanket over his shoulder, he’d tromp out of the camp to the nearest mountain top, where he’d sit for weeks until dying of starvation. Once again, I’ve proved that exercise is unsuitable for you.

There are many disadvantages to living on a cliff-side cubby hole, but for me, it’s the TV reception. It’s lousy down there. You’d need to get cable or a satellite dish. Then you’d waste time waiting for the cable guy to show up.

There are two trails for you to explore when you visit Walnut Canyon National Monument. Both are under a mile long. The Island Trail is a loop that drops into the canyon, past several dwellings, and then climbs back to the rim. We’ll explore it next week. The Rim Trail stays on top of the mesa and is easier to hike. It goes past some old crop fields and a couple of ruins. I took this week’s picture on the Rim Trail.

The image that I call Sinagua Pueblo shows a two-room stone building of generous size. This structure was probably a communal building for ceremonies and grain storage, like your condo’s community center. Here is where the Sinagua unloaded their trucks after a Costco run. Surely you realize that I’m joking. Flagstaff doesn’t have a Costco. Recovered artifacts show that the Sinagua traded with the villages at Eldon Mountain, Wupatki, and Homolovi—after a short train ride to Winslow.

As you quietly stand and admire the pueblo’s stonework, you can hear Sinagua ghosts laughing, smoking peyote, and chanting with the rhythm of deerskin drums late into the night—until the neighbors come by and yell, “turn down those damn drums.” More cowbell.

I hope you enjoy seeing the pueblo at Walnut Canyon. You can view the Web version of Sinagua Pueblo on its page by clicking here. Next week, we’ll explore the Island Trail and show those photos—if I can only make it up this last flight of stairs.

Till next time
jw

Casa Malpais

One of the things tourists do upon arrival is to visit the city park. I don’t know why, but when you browse the brochures, the local park is usually at the top of the list of to-do things. For example, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Park, there’s Central Park in New York, and Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Phoenix has the Margaret T. Hance Deck Park, but I don’t think anyone has ever gone there. These are open spaces within the city that their leaders felt important to protect from development. Springerville has Casa Malpais which isn’t really a park in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a fourteen acre archaeological preserve that the city owns and maintains. In other words, it’s a Pueblo Indian ruins.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1966, Casa Malpais was built on a basalt ledge overlooking the Little Colorado River a couple of miles north of Springerville. The Mogollon people lived there from 1250 to 1350, before abandoning the site. Frank Cushing was the first European Archeologist to visit the Pueblo in the 1800s and the University of Arizona did partial excavations a hundred years later. The findings of that dig are on display at the museum on Main Street back in town.

Queen Anne and I wanted to see Casa Malpais yesterday, so we stopped by the museum to get directions. We found out that the pueblo is not open for self guided tours, but guides take visitors out to the site three times daily. Since it only cost $10.00 per person ($8.00 for geezers), we signed up for the next bus. As we waited for our tour, we watched a twenty-minute background film that explained the history and what to expect. The museum hosts made sure we had sturdy shoes, sun block and water before we left. At 1:00 we (just the two of us) boarded the shuttle for what was a private tour. After making sure we had all of our gear,  Phil, our guide drove us to the scene.

When we arrived we got off the bus and I slung my camera bag over my shoulder while Anne threw some water in her purse/backpack thingy. Phil asked if we didn’t want to take a walking stick, so we each grabbed one from the rack. Looking up at the cliff, I thought, “This will be fun.” I didn’t see an obvious way to get up there. After we were ready, Phil explained, “The trial over there used to be the only one until the archaeologist brought a drone to film the site a couple of years ago. After studying the films, they realized that there was a second path up the ledge, so we’re going to go up this way and come down on the old trail.” I wondered what he was talking about, I couldn’t see a trail in front of us much less the one over there. While we’re at it, I don’t see any ruins up there either!

Pottery Sherds
At the door Kiva’s door is a display of pottery sherds for you to examine. You’re welcome to pick them up and look closely, but please put them back so that others can have the same opportunity.

We started walking up where the bigger rocks were kicked aside until we got to flat rocks that were reinforced and cemented in place. Ah, a trail — I get it. We’d move forward until we got winded, and Phil would conveniently stop and find something to talk about long enough that we’d catch our breath. The walking stick helped me keep my balance with a camera on one shoulder and bag on the other. Before we knew it, we reached the Grand Kiva — a large meeting hall — with basalt stone walls four-foot tall and equally wide. We listened as Phil talked about two hundred men packed in the smoke-filled ceremonial room. Then we went up more steps till we got to the 150 room apartment house were we heard stories of the ancients and how the volunteers take care of it.

Casa Malpais Pueblo
The pueblo at Casa Malpais has over one hundred fifty rooms, some of which have never been excavated. In the background is the town of Springerville at the foot of the White Mountains.

As we walked around the pueblo’s back side, Phil took us aside toward the cliff wall. “This is the lost canyon,” he said pointing at where the lead edge of basalt columns had pulled away from the original cliff. “Jeff and I have explored back there,” he said in such a way that you knew he had a genuine love of this place. Then he showed us three rams head petroglyphs carved into the rocks. “That one marks the summer solstice, the one on the right is the spring equinox and the one in the middle lines up with the cross quarter.” I would never had seen them, much less got a photograph if we were on our own.

Lost Canyon
Behind the Pueblo is a place where the leading edge of basalt columns have pulled away from the cliff. See if you can find the three rams head petroglyphs carved into the rocks.

We spent two hours on the ledge listening to Phil explain what he knew and us asking questions like a couple of six-year-old. He answered what he could and was honest about what his speculations were. “I wish I could go back 800 years to know that answer, but my best guess is … ” Before we knew it, we were back at the bus. Neither of us had fallen and I hadn’t dropped anything into a bottomless crevice, so I counted the day a success. When I mentioned this, Phil said, “Yeah, last month I went out with four and came back with two. My boss said, this is not good.” On the drive back he told us that story. If you’d like to hear it, sign up for a tour and ask Phil.

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