Salado of ancient Arizona

Walls of an ancient Salado city

After checking my map, I realized it was time to head north again if I was going to be back in Portland in time to pick up Tara at the airport on Saturday afternoon. That meant I would be passing by the Tonto National Monument again and would get a second chance to see whatever was there. Yay!!

First, however, I intended to check out the Besh-Ba-Gowah archaeological site in town. I had passed the signs the night before, and felt compelled to stop at a place advertised as an archaeological site. After a Alice-in-Wonderland-esque chase through the town of Globe, in which I am certain the signs sent me doubling back over streets I had already crossed, I eventually managed to get to the Besh-Ba-Gowah site. And yes, it was worth the effort. This is a twice-excavated site of a city once inhabited by what archaeologists call the Salado people. The name is Spanish for Salt, and they are named from the Salt River that was a source of life for them. They lived and then died so long ago, we have no way of knowing what they called themselves.

The remaining stones leave merely an outline of the structure that once was
A reconstructed portion of the city

Besh-Ba-Gowah only survives today as an outline of what it once was. The walls have fallen, but the foundation stones remain, so that we can see where rooms used to be. A couple of buildings have been rebuilt so that we can imagine the rest of it built up as it was when it was in use by the flourishing Salado community. I was able to imagine myself an Indian in the pueblo and climbed up a ladder to the second floor through a hole. Many dwellings had two floors and the people spent a great deal of time on the roofs, making it a virtual third floor.

The little museum on site showcases beautiful examples of the creative Salado pottery (one pot is shaped like a doughnut with a hole through the middle!) and displays copper bells, Californian shell jewelry, Mexican bird feathers, and other examples of the traded items that came into the community.

Salado cliff dwellings of Tonto National Monument

Thirty miles from Globe is the Tonto National Monument, and another perspective of the apparently huge and once thriving Salado nation. I was glad to have stopped first at Besh-Ba-Gowah to get a bit of background before seeing another way the Salado lived: as cliff dwellers. Tonto also has a small museum with not as much pottery as the other museum, but a better display of woven materials. Their weaving was as impressive as their pottery, incorporating fine, delicate fabrics as well as coarse, everyday fabrics. They wove in designs that are still used today, including a rather modern-looking plaid. Both museums hold examples of woven sandals.

an inside view of the cliff dwellings of Tonto National Monument

Up a steep path I was able to explore my first cliff dwellings ever. These masonry remains are about 700 years old. After talking with Park Ranger Eddie Colyott, I was told that the people living in these dwellings, plus those in adjacent caves, probably held a collective 72 people. I was impressed. “That’s nothing,” he said, “then you add the 72 on the other side of that saddle, 72 up the draw there, 72 at the river…” (he pointed to the Salt River flowing in the valley below) Eddie said evidence supports that there were thousands of the Salado living within the Tonto grounds.

Eddie was one of my best finds of the day. He was stopped on the trail up the hill staring at a piece of ground, and I asked him what he was looking at. He explained that erosion was occurring a little too rapidly for a particular wild mint species to propagate, and he told me his idea that he might collect seeds later and spread them on the other side of the trail. He went on to talk a lot more about the native plants growing beside the trail, incorporating many insights into Salado daily life. For example, he explained how they might have seasoned their food, what their main diet was, which of these plants would offer what nutrition, and during what time of year. He broke off a branch of a bush nearby and had me crush the tiny new leaves and smell them. It has a delicious pungent smell, and a powerful taste (I wish I could remember the name of it). He said the Salado would probably use it to spice up some roasted wood rat.

Eddie also explained that this time of year would see a lot of spiritual and ritual activity going on, since it was very important to impress the gods that would ensure the plants thrived and could therefore provide sustenance for the coming year. Both of us eventually had to go our separate ways, to my disappointment.

Snow and pines in Arizona's mountains

I once again ended up by chance on a highway filled with astounding scenery. I rose in elevation until I was in snowy mountain passes and the saguaros were replaced by junipers and then pines. Every time I turned a corner I was greeted with a new breathtaking vista, and I could barely make time at all because I stopped so many times to take photos.

Inspiring arcs of cliff dwelling mortared walls rising above me

I saw signs to Montezuma Castle National Monument and had to go, since my last National Monument stop was such a delight. And what did this one turn out to be? More cave dwellings! What a fun day! These were better preserved and more impressive than at Tonto. However, we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near the ruins, and could only gaze in wonder from a path below. I am glad for my fancy camera and zoom lens! I made it back into civilization soon afterward, and stopped in Flagstaff for the night.

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