PLEASE NOTE! This post is out of order. I just found it in the draft folder. For some reason it was never published.
November 24-25, 2012
From Flagstaff we drove south to Sedona and hit an unwelcomed Thanksgiving weekend traffic jam. The only nearby campground was full so we continued and passed through town. The sun was low in the sky and it ignited the red rock cliffs into a brilliant fiery glow. I longed to take photos but we needed to find a place to camp soon since we were losing daylight.
Heading west on 89, I realized we were close to a forest service road suggested for camping on freecampsites.net. We found the dirt road, drove a couple miles and pulled over and parked in a clearing. We were alone, surrounded by a wide open view. Small hills with modest trees rose nearby to the east. Faraway mountains absorbed the setting sun to the west. To the north was a tantalizing bank of red rock cliffs, still glowing like dying embers.
That night was the full moon, our third of this trip. We started our sabbatical on the Harvest Moon at the end of September. Our second full moon, the Hunter Moon, was completely obscured by the rain and overcast skies of Oregon. Here, near Sedona, the November Beaver Moon crested a nearby hill shining vividly.
The evening was mild and I sat outside, entranced by the fading light of the sun and the brightening glow of the moon. There was a period of magic when everything darkened causing the features of the junipers and the prickly pear cactus to slowly dissolve into a singular darkness. Then, reversing the usual progression of night-fall, the sky lightened again with subtle grace. The soft silvery radiance of the moon created new contrasts and revealed the desert inhabitants again.
The next day we relaxed at our campsite. Wandering down the road I discovered a sign indicating that the Palakti Heritage Site – a place of ancient cliff dwellings – was a few miles farther. I called to make a reservation to see them the following morning.
The Palakti Site visitor’s center was the old home of the early 20th Century homesteader, the first person to live there since the cliff dwellers left in the 1400’s. Inside were artifacts and information about the various native inhabitants. An eager, new, volunteer host guided Chris and I up to the remaining cliff dwellings of what are called the Sinagua Indians. Sinagua, meaning “without water” in Spanish is a misnomer since they, of course, had water to survive the hundreds of years they were there. There were no streams or ponds nearby but they used springs and collected rain water.
These were the red rock cliffs I had seen from our campsite and up close seemed more tangerine than red. They faced a beautiful valley of red earth and green trees toward other mesas and mountains.
Seven centuries of erosion, as well as souvenir hunters and vandals, had left little behind. But what was there to see and what is known of their lifestyle gave the impression of a relatively peaceful and prosperous village. It is not known why they abandoned the cliff dwellings or what exactly became of them.
From there we were directed to a trail that led to a cliff face with petroglyphs and pictographs. Thousands of years of rock art was represented, created by the Sinagua as well as their predecessors and those, such as the Apache, who followed.
In addition to his white wood farmhouse, there were also other remnants of the homesteader. Partial adobe walls still stood where hired hands lived. Near the rock art site, was his own cliff dwelling, where he lived while constructing the wood house. Moving there from the town of Cottonwood as a 60-year-old widow, he began a new life, planting an orchard and dry-farming it with only the water that the desert sky offered.
NOTE ONE: If you click on the ”WHERE WE ARE” link at the top right of this page, you will see where we are now (or within a few days of now.) I have also added some tantalizing photos of what is coming. If you have suggestions or recommendations of things to see or places to stay near where we are, please let me know! Leave a comment here or email me at email@example.com.
NOTE TWO: I do like getting your comments. And you can also “Like” or comment on photographs. So if you feel inspired to say something, please do. It encourages me and makes me feel more connected to friends, family and even strangers.