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Friday, November 6, 2015

Getting to Know the Sinagua

Today we explored some famous pueblo ruins of the Sinagua people.  Here is what Wikipedia reports on the Sinagua:

"The Sinagua were a pre-Columbian cultural group that occupied a large area in central Arizona from the Little Colorado River (near Flagstaff) to the Salt River (near Phoenix), including the Verde Valley and significant portions of the Mogollon Rim country, between approximately 500 AD and 1425 AD.  Early Sinagua sites consist mostly of pit houses, similar to the ones built by the Hohokam people of southern Arizona. Later structures more closely resemble the pueblo architecture practiced by other contemporaneous cultural groups occupying the southwestern United States. The Sinagua economy was based on a combination of hunter-gatherer foraging and subsistence agriculture.  The last known evidence of Sinagua occupation for any site comes from Montezuma Castle, around 1425 AD. Like other pre-Columbian cultures in the southwest, the Sinagua apparently abandoned their permanent settlements around this time, though the precise reasons for such a large-scale abandonment are not yet known; resource depletion, drought, and clashes with the newly arrived Yavapai people have been suggested.  Several modern Hopi clans trace their ancestry to immigrants from the Sinagua culture, whom they believe left the Verde Valley for religious reasons."

We prepared for today by visiting the Verde Valley Archaeology Center yesterday.  It is located in historic downtown Camp Verde.  Despite a statue at its front door that is misleadingly touristy and curiously completely unrelated to the theme and seriousness of the archaeology center --

-- we were amazed at the exhibits inside:

The center states that is mission is is "to preserve archaeological sites and collections, to curate the collections locally, and to make them available for research and education; to develop partnerships with American Indians, cultural groups and the communities it serves; and to foster a deeper understanding of prehistory and American Indian history in the Verde Valley through the science of archaeology."

The center supports serious archaeological research in the Verde Valley and exhibits artifacts from the various sites that it sponsors.  This map, displayed by the National Park Service at some local sites, displays the known locations of Sinagua pueblo ruins in the valley:

Some of the most dramatic artifacts on exhibit come from the Paul Dyck Rockshelter Collection. Paul Dyck was a famous Southwestern artist who purchased a ranch in the Rimrock area near the Montezuma Castle National Monument north of Camp Verde.  In the late 1950s, he became concerned that the rockshelter on his property would be pot hunted due to development in the Rimrock area.  The Dyck rockshelter excavations proved to be so interesting and the deposits so extensive that archaeologists conducted excavations over the course of seven seasons from 1962 to 1972. These excavations recovered thousands of artifacts.  These are some of the most important investigations ever undertaken at an archaeological site in the Verde Valley because of the abundance of well-preserved perishable materials recovered through systematic excavations by professional archaeologists. The textiles and wooden artifacts that were collected rival and in many cases exceed those found in only a few other sites in the region.

To us, the most spectacular artifacts were woven cloth that was preserved in part due to the dry climate locally, and in part due to the way the scraps happened to have been incorporated into clay or mortar as a means of strengthening adobe structures.  The clay incidentally kept all air from the cloth and prevented it from decaying.  Here are two woven items that we thought were particularly striking:

Having armed ourselves with a little knowledge about the Sinagua people, we drove over to Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is one of the best preserved pueblo structures in the American Southwest.  Situated 100 feet above the valley floor, it features five stories of structures built into the walls of the limestone cliffs:

Although the structures had been accessible to visitors before 1951, the NPS in that year prohibited access by tourists and built a scale model of the structure which helps visitors see what is inside.

The pueblo community lies along Beaver Creek, which flows southward toward the Verde River, and from which the Native Americans drew their water and watered the agricultural crops they harvested on the valley floor:

Upstream of Montezuma's Castle is a natural feature that is nearly incomprehensible:  Montezuma's well.  It is a depression in the limestone or travertine in which water springs up naturally from deep in the earth.

High above the water, on the walls of the depression, the Sinagua built pueblo style dwellings, some of which still remain and can be seen from the rim of the depression:

Don't be deceived by the bucolic look of this spring.  The NPS reports that high levels of arsenic naturally occur in this water, which might be the reason that the Sinagua reportedly had stories that a deadly dragon lived in the lake; this would be an effective way to discourage children from drinking the water, which, over a few generations, the native peoples probably discovered would be so deadly. Nevertheless, it obviously was used for agriculture - safely or not, we cannot say.

At a certain level, the water finds a crack in the travertine walls and flows out and down to Wet Beaver Creek.  During the Sinaguan occupation, the Native Americans built up to seven miles of canals to divert part of the water from Montezuma's Well to support their agriculture in the valley. The NPS provides a trial and steps down to the outflow of the spring, and we walked down to explore:

Here, Kathy is demonstrating how steep the stone steps were:

Once down the steps, we followed a path, probably in the footsteps of the Sinagua, through mesquite trees which have grown into a bower over the path:

At the far end of the path, at the outflow, is a remarkable set of "swallet rooms" or residences built into cave-like depressions in the walls around the lake formed by the spring.  A "swallet" is a sinkhole or depression in which water sits, or a cave through which water runs.  This is a precise description of Montezuma's Well.  Here are two of the best-preserved swallet rooms - the one on the left inside the stonework through the door, and the one on the right formed mainly by the cave, which would have had a front rock wall near where we were standing:

Unfortunately, attitudes toward cultural and archaeological preservation haven't always been what they are today, and right over the rooms we saw graffiti advertising the names of photographers who could sell you photos of these ruins.  This particular "advertisement" was dated 1878:

The path around Montezuma's Well also led us to the place on the other side of the hill where the water flowed out and had been intercepted by the early inhabitants' canals before reaching Wet Beaver Creek.  Here, Kathy is inspecting one section of what remains of the original irrigation canals:

We followed the trail back around to our truck, and then drove down to a picnic area which featured a scenic nature trail that led over to the stream:

The stream burbled along merrily through a wetland, and in our short half-mile hike, we spotted tracks of javelinas (wild pigs), some cat-like animal, and even what looked like the tracks of a coatimundi or ringtail, all transacting business in the wet, sandy area next to the stream:

Why, we even spotted a red-tailed hawk who, drawn by our conversation, circled us to see if we had, or could rustle up, anything he might find tasty:

Even today, the wildlife seems plentiful in the Verde Valley.  We can't imagine how prolific the area was for hunters and gatherers when only 5,000-8,000 people lived in the valley during the Sinaguas' time.  We can, however, appreciate why the Sinagua settled here and revered this area.  It is truly a "Green Valley."

Camp Verde and Cottonwood

Hi Blog! We're a little behind on our posts so I am doing a combined entry for Wednesday and Thursday, November 4 and 5, 2015. It took us the better part of Wednesday to recover from moving Tuesday night to avoid 8 inches of snow on the high mountain passes outside of Flagstaff. After a good sleep in and campground walk, we decided to go into Camp Verde for lunch and have a look around.

First stop - Verde Brewing Company! Located in the old Boler's Tavern Building built in 1933, Verde Brewing is know for its craft brew and farm-to-table burgers. Kathy went for a beer sampler while Dave enjoyed a pint of the Honey Pot Stout. After sampling the other beers, Kathy agreed - Honey Pot Stout was the best of the bunch. The folks on Yelp raved about their burgers, so we had to share one - Rio Claro Red Wine Burger. It was delicious! Now that we sated our thirst and our appetites, it was time to get down to some exploring.

Camp Verde is not a big town, so we just left Great White in the parking lot of Verde Brewing and walked a block to the entrance to Fort Verde State Historic Park.

Fort Verde State Historic Park is a small park that attempts to preserve parts of the Apache Wars-era fort as it appeared in the 1880s. The park was established in 1970 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places a year later. Inside the Visitor Center, are a number of exhibits on life in the fort. Here Kathy is modeling the latest in Federal-wear.

The fort was a base for General Crook’s U.S. Army scouts and soldiers in the 1870s and 1880s. From 1865 – 1891 Camp Lincoln, Camp Verde and Fort Verde were home to officers, doctors, families, enlisted men, and scouts. The park is a great example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona. Several of the original buildings still stand. Here is the view across the parade grounds to the officers quarters.

The buildings are open and you can walk through them. They did their best to outfit the rooms as they would have looked during the height of activity. Here, the surgeon is studying up on the latest medical techniques.

After touring the Fort, we walked another block and found the Camp Verde Historical Society. After the Indian Wars, settlers arrived in 1865 and began farming along the Verde River and its tributaries, beginning with a 200-acre settlement at the confluence of the Verde River and West Clear Creek. Although many of the settlers came to the Valley to farm and ranch, a rich mineral strike in the Black Hills in the late 1870s attracted a wave of newcomers and resulted in the establishment of the towns of Cottonwood, Jerome and Clarkdale, perched high in the hills to the west of Camp Verde. The Historical Society covered the entrance to their building with some great murals depicting early life in the Verde Valley.

We learned that the Verde Salt Mine played a key role in the life of the Verde Valley’s early inhabitants. Formed by sediments from an inland freshwater lake that existed between 10 and 2 million years ago, the Verde Salt Mine deposit has been mined since at least the first century. Both the Hohokam and Sinagua cultures used the salt as a trade item with cultures as far a way as Baja California, New Mexico and Mexico. The the deposit was mined commercially as late as the 1920s and 1930s. The U.S forest service is currently developing the mine as an interpretive site. We got to take a look at one of the old shovels used to mine the salt.

We finished up our walking tour of Camp Verde and headed back to our campground. We had some errands to run on Thursday and decided to combine them with a trip to Cottonwood, just up the Verde Valley from Camp Verde.

On the way to the Post Office, we discovered The Bank of Clemenceau. Clemenceau is now a neighborhood of the city of Cottonwood. It was built as a company town in 1917 to serve the new smelter for James Douglas, Jr.'s United Verde Extension Mine (UVX) in Jerome. The town was originally named Verde after the mine, but it was changed to Clemenceau in 1920 in honor of the French premier in World War I, Georges Clemenceau, a personal friend of Douglas. 

The Clemenceau smelter closed in 1937. Most residents then left the area. When Cottonwood was incorporated in 1960, Clemenceau and the Clemenceau Airport were included in its boundaries.
With the exception of the school, the bank/post office and the smelter slag pile, little remains of the original town of Clemenceau. After the Post Office run, we walked back down to the Historic Center of Cottonwood. On the way, we passed a classic 1950's style dinner.

We didn't have any problem finding Old Town.

Located between Prescott and Sedona, Cottonwood is surrounded by jagged mountains on the south, east and west; to the north by mesas and buttes. Named for the beautiful Cottonwood trees that grow along the Verde River, the town has grown from a small farming community to the Verde Valley's population center. Historic Old Town is filled with lots of interesting shops and restaurants.

Just at the end of Main Street, is the Gateway to the Verde River. Debarking from the site of a rustic old jail building on the left, now home to a quaint tea house, the easy trail follows the river bank through River Front Park to Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

The trailhead sign beacons us forth.

Parts of the old irrigation canal system still carry water.

With all of the rain and snow that Arizona has received in the past few weeks, the Verde River was running high.

After a rather leisurely walk through the woods, we retired to The Tavern Grille to share a grilled veggie wrap and a couple pints of College Street Brewhouse Sweet Devil Stout!  We thought that, all in all, this was a pretty stylish way to get to know the area.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Eddie & George Wake Up a Day Early in Camp Verde - Refugees from a Snowstorm

Eddie and George were surprised to wake up in Camp Verde, Arizona this morning!  They were sure that today was move day and that they would spend it watching the Arizona countryside whiz by as the rig moved south from Page.  But it was not to be.

The National Weather Service issued an alert (George thought it had been a mite tardy) yesterday afternoon, warning of heavy snow in Flagstaff and other high elevations (including, most notably, the summit at Sunset Volcano National Monument on US 89) which were to be our travel route today. Heavy rains were due to commence anytime, and they would become snow higher up before midnight, accumulating up to 6 inches.  It finally sunk in with Kathy and Dave that they needed to either (i) find another route south, or (ii) stay in Page an extra, indeterminate number of days, or (iii) get the heck out of Dodge RIGHT NOW.  After much discussion, we decided to head south immediately, and confirmed that our campground in Camp Verde would let us in a day earlier.

At 4:00 pm we were on the road.  Even so, the rain became a downpour as we headed south from Bitter Springs.  As we climbed toward Sunset Volcano, the rain became thick.  Then it became sleet, then wet snow.  It was heavy and leaving slushy accumulations on the highway as we reached the top, with visibility a bit of a problem, too.

Well.  So the temperature had plummeted and the snow had come even earlier than the NWS predicted.  We hoped we would be back to rain by the time we reached Flagstaff, which was generally true, but the downpour became a torrent and we had hail as we drove down the 18-mile hill south of Flagstaff.

We got into camp just after 8:00 pm and were greeted by our friendly campground hosts, Nan and Norm, who helped us park in a spacious, beautiful site.  By now, the rain had left Camp Verde and we were able to set up in balmy, non-rainy, 52F weather.

The news reports this morning were pretty explicit:

Boy, were we glad we had beat feet just ahead of THAT!  If not, we would have confronted a mess on the highways all the way down, with even heavier rain and snow all day today and tonight.

We woke Eddie and George and asked if they wanted to go out and explore.  Due to the threat of rain, we had them put on their rain gear, and we went for a walk down to Clear Creek, which adjoins the campground.  Eddie found a beautiful little cascade and the boys asked us to take their photo at that spot.  And so we did:

This area is so green, and the wetland through which the creek burbles so beautiful, strewn with stream-rounded stones, that we couldn't help but be pleased with out current camping spot:

Zane Grey RV Park is a beautiful, spacious campground, nestled in the Verde Valley, which is named after the Verde River running through the area, and which is aptly named for its leafy splendors.  Here is a scene from the campground:

After our walk, George and Eddie advised us that, in their opinion, we had been very wise to move south when we did.  We agreed.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Off-Roading to White Pockets

This was the second half of a long day of adventure on November 1, 2015 in the Coyote Buttes area of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  Having wolfed down a scrumptious trail lunch fixed by our guide Don, we piled back into his 4x4 truck for the teeth-jarring, nerve-challenging ride further on into the wilderness to find White Pockets.  There are at least two or three routes in, but all are over sandy roads.  Google Map notes "White Pocket" and the coordinates are 36.955117, -111.893667. But BE WARNED:  You should only attempt to drive in to this location if you have a high-clearance 4x4 with good off-road tires which you have deflated for sand, you have experience driving off-road in deep sand and through washes, and there has been no rain for a few days and none in the forecast for your visit.

As we started our hike on the trail into White Pocket, we could see White Pocket Butte beyond our destination:

Our first view of the formations in White Pocket was this dramatic scene, which we dubbed the "River of Chocolate":

David couldn't resist putting his feet right into the middle of it!

The others followed in, too entranced with the scenery to move fast:

Kathy spotted this stone sculpture of Skeletor:

Further on, Don pointed out the rust-colored pattern in this butte, which he says the locals call, "The Swan":

Everywhere were patters in red, brown, white, ochre, orange, yellow, purple and pastels of all shades, made more dramatic by shadows playing across them:

This feature stands guard over what Don called, "The Worm Hole."  The oranges and reds we saw in real life were even more dramatic than this photo can show:

Here is Don descending into the Worm Hole ahead of us:

One by one, we crawled down through the Worm Hole.  On the other side, we stood on an undulating ripple of rosy sandstone.  Here, Joanne is marveling at the colors and shapes while Ray makes his way to join her:

Kathy wanted to become one with the earth:

Mikael, too, couldn't resist putting himself up in the center of the fiery orange eye behind the Worm Hole:

A chance glance up one channel of the Worm Hole revealed these pockets of moss, which evidently found some moisture and nutrients and were spreading their complementary color over the pink stone:

Further north through the formation, we encountered an old cow path - a clearly defined trail worn smooth across the white sandstone, where herds of cattle had filed deliberately down to a water pond that some past rancher had built by damming the far end of a pocket so that it would hold more rainwater:

Heading back around the area to the west, we came across this golden "Castle" --

and then, to top that off, this colorful formation that Don calls the "Ice Cream":

He reported that geologists haven't explained how the sandstone deformed in so many, varied ways in this area, reporting that there are theories involving earthquakes, subsidence, sinkholes, water flow, and more.

As we climbed back to exit the area onto our trial back to the truck, we climbed up what Don likes to call the "Glacier of Rock," frozen in its flow downhill:

On the long ride back through the sandy tracks to where Don picked us up, we were all quiet, trying to digest the infinite shapes and colors we had witnessed today.  We appreciated that Don had willingly given up a 14-hour day to bring us these gifts, and we thanked him warmly for his hospitality and his willingness to share these beautiful, secret places.

If you're interested, you can find all of our photos from White Pockets here.