Some of you know that I have been traveling toward Southern California to witness the eighth grade graduation of our grandson. The miles have melted away and we reached Phoenix Friday last. Several things come to mind during the trip. First that Missouri roads are not truly designed for the speed limits they allow. <roar> And, that I heard accents in Texas I had not heard for a long time, that southern drawl, slow and methodical.

The miles melted by so fast that as we flew past Walnut Canyon National Monument, just east of Flagstaff, Arizona, we had a bit of nostalgia. Some years ago on a return from California we had our oldest granddaughter with us and we stopped at Walnut Canyon. Here is preserved the remains of more than 300 prehistoric dwellings built on a series of ledges in the 400-foot-deep gorge. This depth is important. The trail leads past 25 cliff dwellings; via descending 247 steps with no land on either side. Then, a table [island in the canyon] had no railing to hold small granddaughters from walking toooo close to the edge. To view all those dwellings one walked around the edge of this pinnacle. To this day our granddaughter remembers how tightly we held her hand as we walked around on this island. <VBG>

Turning south on I-17 toward Phoenix we traveled new terrain. And, what should appear but the meteor crater. We bypassed that due to the entrance fee was a bit more than we wished. So we had never visited Montezuma Castle in the Verde Valley. Years ago we visited Mesa Verde and thought that we could take another cliff dwelling.

Montezuma Castle was inhabited by Sinagua farmers. This is a five story, 20 room dwelling built in the early 12th century. It stands in a cliff recess a hundred feet above the valley. Early settlers marveled a the structure and thought that is was Artecan in origin. A short distance is the badly deteriorated ruin of another castle which was a six story apartment with about 45 rooms.

The Sinaguans thought that this was a good place to live. The creek was a reliable source of water, and there was fertile land on which to farm.

Also, very interesting is the fact that old pictures of the "castle" showed the exterior walls to be of mixed stone. When we saw just saw it some of the exterior wall was smooth plastered. Asking about this we were told that the park service had hired some native restorers from Mesa Verde to do some work on the castle. They did it as a modern plasterer would do it, rather than as the ancients did it. So much for authenticity.

Interesting is the fact that the folk who study these ancient peoples summarize that these particular folk adopted the ways of three different cultures. Among them the Spanish. The Verde Valley as this area is called, was home to two distinctive cultures. One the Hohokam, which means "those who have gone"; and the Sinagua, meaning "without water". The Hohokam came to settle in the valley about 600 A.D., while the Sinagua moved down into the valley about 1125 A.D.

The Hohokam were folk who were skilled at farming such crops as corn, beans, squash and cotton. They were skilled in irrigation. They lived in one room houses made of poles, sticks and mud plaster, which they built on terraces overlooking their fields in the bottomland.

The Sinagua were originally pithouse dwellers and dry farmers, dependent on rainfall for their crops. In their move into the valley they altered their culture in two ways: they adopted irrigation from the Hohokan, and they began to build aboveground masonry dwellings. This latter probably came from the Anasazi [old ones] cultures from the north, such as Mesa Verde.

In the 1400s, the Sinagua abandoned the entire valley. It is not known why. It might have been too much pressure upon the land [lack of water]. It might have been conflict with the Yavapai who occupied the land by the 1500s when the Spanish arrived. It is speculated that the survivors moved north and were absorbed into pueblos there.


© 2000, by Bill Oliver
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