Recently my blogger friend Manja commented, “By following the (visible and invisible) signs, you get to just the right places.” In this post you will find an example. The evening before, I had followed the signs of high wind and changed my plans from camping to hotel room. While in that hotel room, I found a “things to do in the area” page inside the guest book in my room. The directions to Petroglyph Park were tricky, so I took a photo of them on my phone, and that is how I spent two hours out in the middle of nowhere in northern Arizona and found remarkable things.
On the morning of Day 4 of my road trip, I left Holbrook and took the highway exit for the golf course, but I had no intention of golfing. People who travel this way will follow a road that could be described as “paved,” for the first two miles.
You will come to a metal gate for the golf course, behind which is a wide open gravel lot with some rusted out buildings and no greens in sight and does not at all suggest a golf course. Instead of passing beneath the gate, turn right on what could be described as “a road.”
You pass through an area that looks like salt flats. I was so fascinated I stopped for photos. I spotted the golf course from a distance. Despite the lack of leaves on the trees and less-than-green grass because it’s still wintertime, the golf course looks beautiful and well taken care of, and a respite from the desert. If I lived here I would take up golfing just to go there on a regular basis.
Can I just say that the mere fact of this place being hard to find, with roads that seemed not quite what I expected, is what doubled my excitement. Would there really be something special out here? If so, I was about to be one of few tourists who know about it.
I arrived at a sharp turn in the road at the base of the bluff, and with no other humans or signs anywhere, was not sure where to look for petroglyphs, so I turned to the left and kept driving.
At the end of the road is space to park, and a trail to a lake, and park benches and information signs and I had NO IDEA this was out here. The info page in the hotel did not mention a lake. I saw birds everywhere and I can’t resist them, so I parked and hopped out. There are two information boards. One explains that this is reclaimed waste water and the city has chosen to route their treated grey water into this pond and let it filter through desert soils as the final step in cleaning. This way, birds from a wide area have a safe and watery place to live or visit. The next information sign listed the most common birds visitors will see. It did not identify the two main birds I saw, however, so I had to look them up.
I tried my ninja stealth skills, but they were worthless, and before I got anywhere near them, the shovelers flew as if possessed by demons, to the opposite side of the lake. The coots, which require much effort of flapping and pushing off water with their feet in order to gain flight, chose to paddle ferociously away from me. The paddlers were slower and thus I got my first shots of the coots. I sat down on a tire and waited till the shovelers came a little closer and got some shots of them too.
The tires, I guessed, were to hold down a mat I could see lining the lake, but it was not clear why some tires had been removed. Many tires were still submerged. But these piles of tires were only heaped right at the entrance, and nowhere else around the lake. The signs indicated that it was supposed to be a walking trail, so I obliged and walked the loop. The lake was very pretty, despite a lack of green because it was too early in the season. It was about 7:30am when I arrived, and while chilly, the sun warmed me quickly and I pulled off my sweatshirt before I made the full circle.
I spent a happy hour there, but then started thinking about petroglyphs again. I drove back to the turn in the road and parked once more, and headed for some picnic tables with awnings for shade. As I drew closer, I saw more information boards, explaining about the petroglyphs on the rocks here. They are mostly from the Pueblo II and Pueblo III peoples, it said, with some from the Basketmaker and Archaic as well. Now, it’s been a while since I got my anthropology degrees, and furthermore I focused on cultural anthropology and not so much archaeology, but I recall that groups of ancient peoples with characteristics in common are named by modern scientists. Over time, that named group can be dated. This helps to make sense of things. If the pottery and tools have all the characteristics of X group of ancient people, they use that as a beginning investigation point. The information signs were telling me that styles of petroglyphs are likewise assigned to a group and dated.
Pueblo II peoples date from 900 to 1150 CE, and Pueblo III dates from 1150 to 1350. But the Basketmaker peoples date from 1500 BCE and the Archaic can be even older. That is quite exciting!
I stepped onto the closest trail and followed it directly up the hill to the rocks, and right away began spotting the ancient artwork and messages.
I have a feeling that the number of petroglyphs I could see was entirely dependent upon how long I was willing to stay and look around, because every trail I followed brought me to more. There are miles of trails here. And unlike the other petroglyph sites I have seen recently, there were no fences keeping people away. But there were requests to please, please don’t touch. I did not.
I mentioned in response to a comment on an earlier post that one of my Cherokee elders told me not to try to interpret the images. The message is not for me, he said. I am supposed to appreciate them, value them, respect them, but not assume I could possibly guess their meaning. That’s fair. As an anthropologist of course we are taught that as well. But the riddle is irresistible. And I’ll out my elder in saying that I have caught him on occasion guessing the meaning of a pictograph.
I’ll confess I don’t hold these in the same kind of reverence as I am taught to. I am in awe, as you have noticed. But I do not assume they were all created by some wise holy person as a plea to a god, nor that they are messages about crops or strong babies. Every time I see a cluster of pictographs or petroglyphs, I visualize a couple of teenagers who snuck away from their uncle and each one holds a hammer rock in one hand, and they are snickering and hammering out pictures of each other, and deer they intend to kill one day, and drawing goofy images of their uncle, and then laughing until their ribs ache.
It was time to go! Though the temperature had only risen from 36 degrees when I woke up to 50 degrees (10 C), I was sweating in the hot Arizona sun. I turned the AC on and made the quick trip to Show Low, Arizona, where I was dying to reunite with my friend Marlene.