Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hohokam and Pueblo Grande Exhibit

Beginning in the winter season of 2011 to October 2012 the Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, Colorado is hosting the Pieces of the Puzzle – Hohokam Exhibit displaying new ideas on the Hohokam Culture.

The Hohokam culture is known for the extensive irrigation works on the Salt River in the Phoenix, Arizona area. An easy to visit Hohokam site is the Pueblo Grande site in Phoenix, AZ located at 4619 East Washington Street, near the northeast side of the Sky Harbor Airport. Part of the Dolores, CO display includes artistic renditions of Hohokam life including the Pueblo Grande site.

The elevated overview of Pueblo Grande site isn’t actually available at the site. The trail travels along the sides of the platform mound and also climbs up on top. From the top of the mound there is an overview of the rest of the site.
The Pueblo Grande platform mound is one of more than 50 known in Arizona with nearly half of them in the Salt River Valley. The mounds are located at regular intervals of approximately three miles along the major irrigation canals.

At the Pueblo Grande site there are replicas of residential structures. The artist rendition appears to depict the circular pit house style that prevailed from 450 to 950 AD. On the Pueblo Grande site, one of the residences is open for visitors to enter and inspect the inside details. The frame is described as mesquite or cottonwood trees. Branches or Saguaro Cactus ribs are lashed to the frames.

There are replica artifacts arranged inside. One of the women in the artist rendition appears to be working on pottery and using the paddle and anvil technique that is described in the Dolores Exhibition. There a small pottery dog next to her. Some examples of these pottery dogs are on display in Dolores also.

Sunken ballcourts similar to ballcourts in Mexico were built at some of the Hohokam large sites between 700 AD and 1100 AD. The ballcourt at the Pueblo Grande site is one of the few of the 200 southwestern United States ballcourts discovered that have been excavated.

At the Pueblo Grande site the interpretive information says that use of ballcourts was discontinued sometime after 1200 AD. One of the main points of the Dolores Pieces of the Puzzle Exhibit was to discuss possible reasons why the whole Hohokam Culture gradually declined and disappeared.

The desert scene depicts Hohokam petroglyphs near Tucson, AZ.

Outside the Pueblo Grande Museum there are some example petroglyphs that have been relocated there. One of the museum images is clearly a mountain sheep. The other image is somewhat vague but looks like it could be a mountain lion.

Another of the artist renditions shows a scene at the headworks of the irrigation system. One of the puzzle pieces of the Dolores Exhibit shows how population shifted from the central core sites like Pueblo Grande to sites more at the distant ends of the irrigation system. This was a problem as these headworks still needed operation and maintenance.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Walnut Canyon Island Trail

Walnut Canyon National Monument preserves the cliff dwellings and mesa top pueblos of the Sinagua people who lived here between 1125 and 1250 AD. The Island Trail is a 1.0 mile loop that descends 185 feet into Walnut Canyon and passes through several biological communities.

Walnut Canyon is 10 miles east of Flagstaff on Interstate 40, in north Arizona. The Sinagua people were farmers using the mesa tops but used the ledgy alcoves in Walnut Canyon for constructing small dwellings. There are many small ruins visible, both along the trail and on the canyon walls across from the trail. The National Monuments south of Flagstaff, AZ called Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot are also identified with the Sinagua.

The first segment of trail descends on 240 steps and the trail is paved. Many of the diverse arrays of plants along the trail are identified, making this a good botany trail also. This is a rich area biologically with many of the life zones of North America represented in miniature. The variations in moisture and angle of sunlight result in cool areas with firs and pines and dry areas with Pinon/Juniper and desert plants. These changes can be viewed with each curve of the trail.

The small alcove ruins sites are mostly facing south to take advantage of the sun for winter survival. Most of the rooms were for storage with the larger rooms for sleeping and shelter. The rock layers here are limestone.
Despite all the resources in this area, Walnut Canyon was abandoned by 1250. The people may have been absorbed into other groups as there isn’t a Sinagua tribe today.

One of the interesting plants along the trail is Rockmat. It is a member of the Rose Family and it seems to cling to the rocky cliffs. I haven’t noticed this one elsewhere. The interpretive sign says that Navajos collect this plant for ceremonies, its only known use.

Walnut Canyon seems to have a higher density of small alcove sites than any area of the Four Corners. The population estimate for this area at its peak is 75 to 40, but the map of archaeology sites shows a very high density.

 My hike took about 1:00 hour for the 1 mile. There is also the 0.7 mile Rim Trail at Walnut Canyon that provides views of the Island area and has a mesa top pueblo site.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Walnut Canyon Rim Trail

The Rim Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument is a 0.75 mile loop that overlooks the area of the Island Trail and has an excavated mesa top pueblo ruins site of the Sinagua people. Walnut Canyon is 10 miles east of Flagstaff on Interstate 40 in northern Arizona. Besides the Rim Trail, Walnut Canyon also has the 1 mile Island Trail that descends into the canyon and passes many small alcove ruins sites.

The trail is paved and the walking is easy. Besides the views into Walnut Canyon and the many small alcove ruins sites, the Rim Trail identifies many of the diverse plant communities that occur in this lush environment.

One of the plants I noticed here that I haven’t seen in other Four Corners canyon areas is Fernbush in the Rose family.

One of the highlights is the two room pueblo building. This type of structure represents the architecture used by the Sinagua around 1100 AD. The Sinagua people farmed the mesa top area, growing corn, beans, and squash. They also gathered acorns and pinion nuts, and hunted large and small game.

Across from the two room pueblo is a structure described at a pit house. This represents an earlier form of dwelling and may have later been used for storage.

In the vicinity of the two room pueblo, there is also an unexcavated site that appears as a pile of rubble. The interpretive information says that there are many sites like this in the Monument area that are being left undisturbed for now.

There is an interesting example of the diversity of plant life in the Walnut Canyon area along the Rim Trail. At one spot the Utah Juniper, Oneseed Juniper, and Rocky Mountain Juniper are growing side by side. The Utah Juniper is the most common in the Four Corners area and the Rocky Mountain Juniper grows commonly in places that are a little moister. The Oneseed Juniper is not as common and is recognized by having many limbs rising from the ground rather than a distinct trunk. There is also an example of the Alligator Juniper growing along the Island Trail.

My hike on the Rim Trail was in early September and took 0:25 minutes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Badger Springs Trail-Agua Fria Nat. Monument

The Agua Fria National Monument is a BLM managed area that preserves 400 archaeological sites in central Arizona. There is only minimum development for visitors, but the Badger Springs Trail is easy to access. Exit Interstate 17 at Exit 256 between Camp Verde and Phoenix. It is a short distance on dirt roads to the trailhead.
Agua Fria is home to the Perry Mesa Tradition people. Most of the sites were inhabited between 1250 and 1450 AD. There is a pit toilet available near the trailhead and the information sign includes a good map with some interpretive information.

 I started hiking at the pit toilet but the actual trailhead is a few hundred yards further. The hike is about 1.5 miles round trip down Badger Springs Wash to the junction with the Agua Fria River.

The trail follows the sandy dry wash bottom between steep slopes on both sides. The vegetation is different than the higher desert areas of the Four Corners canyon areas and seemed mostly different than the lower desert area around Phoenix.

The trail highlight is the petroglyph panel at the junction of the Badger Springs Wash and the Agua Fria River. The two main panels are high on the boulders on the left side.

Both these panels are easy to see from below. Binoculars are helpful for the higher panel. There are a couple of minor images besides the two large panels.

The interpretive brochure says that Hohokam farmers established small villages in the area around 700 AD. After 1100 AD more settlers moved to this upland area. The Perry Mesa is the highland east of this canyon junction. Black Mesa is the highland to the west.

The Agua Fria River was just a puddle during my visit in early September. The area around the canyon junction was very jumbled with rocks and cliffs.

My total hike took about 1:00 hour for about 1.5 miles. I saw 3 other hikers on the trail during my hike. The other trail that is publicized for Agua Fria National Monument is the Pueblo la Plata ruins site accessed from the Bloody Basin Road at Exit 259.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Deer Valley Rock Art Center

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center preserves the 1571 rock art images of the Hedgpeth Hill Petroglyph site. The 0.25 mile trail and museum are 2 miles west of Interstate 17 on Deer Valley Road on the northwest side of the Phoenix, AZ area. There is a $7 admission charge.

The rock art images are thought to be the work of Archaic, Patayan, and Hohokam people from between 500 to 1200 AD. The trail is along the base of a hill with many basalt boulders and the petroglyphs are among the boulders.

One of the interpretive signs along the trail mentions that green stones from the nearby Skunk Creek have been found among the basalt boulders and there is an association with grinding stones.

The rocky slope here may have been an important source of material for producing grinding stones. There are also supposed to be some small rooms built among the boulders, but I don’t think these are visible from the trail. The purpose of the small rooms isn’t clear, but could have been lookout points.

There are 12 stops along the trail with most of the images between stops 6 and 9. Viewing tubes are installed to point out some of the images. Many of the images are high up among the boulders and binoculars are handy to see the distant figures.
Besides the rock art images, some of the desert plants are identified and there is a cactus garden planted in the shape of a spiral petroglyph. The museum has some displays on petroglyphs and in September 2011 there is a gallery of archaeological pictures taken at the Perry Mesa area of Agua Fria National Monument. I visited on a 95 F early September day and spent about 1:00 hour.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pueblo Grande Hohokam Ruins in Phoenix

Pueblo Grande is a large Hohokam ruins site located in the central area of Phoenix, Arizona. There is a one third mile trail that tours a platform mound, the most significant structure. The address for this urban site is 4619 East Washington Street. It is near the northeast side of the Sky Harbor Airport. In 2011 there is a $6 admission charge.
The Hohokam are famous for their extensive network of canals. The Pueblo Grande site is at the head works of part of this system. Water was diverted from the Salt River into an irrigation system feeding thousands of acres of farming fields

The paved trail leads up on top of the sandy beige colored structure where there are views of some of the excavated rooms. This adobe type construction site contrasts with extensive stonework ruins sites in the other areas of the Four Corners region. The platform mound is thought to be a ceremonial and administrative center rather than a place where residents lived.

There are interpretive signs along the trail describing some of the history of the site and comments on what was found here and offering some possible interpretations. An adobe wall three feet thick and eight feet high surrounds the platform mound. The wet mud and caliche material was applied in courses rather than as mud bricks. In the 1300s the platform mound was nearly 25 feet high.

The overall site once extended to the north for more than a mile. There were many small residential compounds and other structures. The platform mound may have started as two separate mounds that eventually grew together. The main period of use was from 1150 to 1450 AD.

On the north side of the platform mound, there are some replica adobe compounds from 1300 AD and pithouse structures from 950 AD. A wood frame was made from mesquite or cottonwood trees and the spaces filled with branches or saguaro cactus ribs.

An Adobe mud plaster covered the wooden frame. One of these replicates can be entered and there are replicate artifacts arranged for easy viewing. These replicate structures are taller than the originals with large doors for our convenience.

Near the end of the trail is a ball court. The court is 82 feet long and 38 feet wide. The interpretive information says that this is one of the few that have been excavated of the 200 or so that have been located in the southwest.

This court is thought to have been used between 750 and 1200 AD. It seems odd that the ball court use ended in 1200 while the overall site continued to be used until 1450. In the vicinity of the ball court, there are some example Hohokam gardens and some of the desert plants like Ocotillo, Screwbean Mesquite, and Chainfruit Cholla are identified.

There are interpretive museum displays at the Pueblo Grande site. One that I found interesting was the large map of the 1000 miles of Hohokam canals and the irrigation system. The map shows many other related ruins sites in the area along the Salt River. Outside the museum the American Society of Civil Engineers has erected a plaque commemorating the canal system as an Historic Civil Public Works Project. There is also a theater with a 10 minute video of Pueblo Grande and the Hohokam.

I visited on a 95 F early September afternoon. My tour took about 1.5 hours and there were only a few others here during my visit. The ruins viewing was very calm in the midst of busy nearby freeways and airport.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Tuzigoot National Monument Trail

Tuzigoot National Monument preserves a large Southern Sinagua Pueblo ruins site in the Verde Valley area of central Arizona. Tuzigoot is related to the nearby Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well and these sites can be accessed from Interstate 17 in the area around Camp Verde between Flagstaff and Phoenix.

There is a 0.25 mile paved trail that climbs up the ridge to the top of the pueblo site. Along the trail are several interpretive signs and some of the native plants are identified. The Tuzigoot Ruins are positioned on a limestone ridge that runs north and south. By 1150 AD the Southern Sinagua were building large pueblos. The pueblos reached their maximum size by 1300 AD but were abandoned in the early 1400s.

The first segment passes rooms that are described as living and sleeping spaces. The building stones available here are mostly porous limestone. It is a mystery what happened to the Sinagua people as no separate tribe remains today. In 1300, there were 50 major pueblo sites in the Verde Valley.

The rooms were added gradually with no overall plan. The entrances were mostly through the roofs. Tuzigoot had 86 ground floor rooms at its height, with maybe 15 second story rooms, and about 225 residents. The builders used a double wall style and filled the space between with rubble. The irregular stones required a large amount of mud mortar. More than half the wall volume is mortar. The walls are 24 to 30 inches thick.
At the top, the trail enters a room and then climbs to the roof. There is a separate trail guide describing the landscape in four directions. Besides the views over the rooms as they cascade down the hillside, the south view is toward the Verde River and the riparian cottonwood, ash, walnut, and sycamore ecosystem that was available for farming, hunting and gathering. In modern times, there has been mining in the hills to the south and west and the towns of Clarksdale and Jerome are visible.

To the north there are limestone ridges that overlook an old Verde River oxbow. To the east, this basin is called the Tavasci marsh. The historic Tuzigoot Museum at the start of the trail is visible in this view. Building on hilltops provided good line of site views over the landscape and to other communities and kept more land available for farming.

The historic Tuzigoot Museum has been recently renovated and is celebrating 75 years of service in 2011. I thought the most eye catching display was the collection of very large Olla jars near the entrance. The Tuzigoot pottery is mostly undecorated red and brown. There are also other pottery and artifacts displays and more interpretive explanation of the Tuzigoot site. I visited Tuzigoot on an early September morning when there were only a few other visitors.