We really didn’t plan on it, but we’ve spent a good deal of time visiting the ruins of early Native American settlements. Most of the sites we’ve visited date back roughly 1,000 years and most seem to have been abandoned sometime around 1300. No one really knows why. It may have been drought or hostile neighbors or disease or something else. In any case, after living in these locations for hundreds of years, they disappeared. And they left some fairly sophisticated structures behind.
Primarily farmers and traders, these people started with small housing units and then added more as the population increased. By the time they left, some of these settlements were quite large and built high into adjoining cliff walls.
I think Montezuma Castle is my favorite location (so far), mostly because of its grand structure. However, as the Rangers like to tell you, the name is a bit misleading. It clearly isn’t a castle, and Montezuma was never here.
Tuzigoot is also interesting. First, it’s pronounced TUZI – WOODT (the “g” is silent). Second, the name “Tuzigoot” has absolutely nothing to do with the original occupants. The name was coined by the workers who restored this site back in the 1930’s. When the site was first located there was nothing here but piles of rocks. Archaeologists had to determine the size and location of individual structures by examining artifacts that had been left behind. I’m not sure how they did all that but they’re apparently fairly confident that they got it right.
Walnut Canyon is located near Flagstaff, AZ, and sits in a very steep canyon. Most of the housing area is about halfway up the side of the canyon and sits in what I would consider a precarious location. A creek flowed at the bottom and must have been extremely difficult to reach, especially during the winter (Flagstaff very definitely has 4 seasons). I’m only guessing, but there must have been numerous accidents resulting in immediate death or broken bones. And broken bones could certainly have been a death sentence for these people.
The above image was taken from the inside of one of these small dwellings. I was sitting along the back wall of a room that’s maybe 10 feet by 15 feet. The roof of these houses was a natural alcove that can be seen at the top of the picture. The opposite side of the canyon is clearly visible, although the steepness of the drop outside the doorway is hidden.
For me, it is difficult to comprehend the fact that these people lived and flourished generations before the Europeans arrived. While they looked a lot like us and probably experienced much of the same joys and tragedies of life, they were very different. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it is us who have become very different types of humans. Most of us wouldn’t survive this life, at least not for very long. And personally, I’m not sure that we’re headed in a better direction. Heck, at this moment I’m sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas typing on a computer. I wonder what these cliff-dwellers would think of that?