Palatki Cliff Dwellings – Sedona, AZ

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Palatki Heritage Site website
My visit:  October 26, 2017
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Even before getting to the ancient cliff dwellings or petroglyphs, you feel like you’re entering a magical kingdom here.

The road getting there can be pretty rough in places (see video below), but the scenic rewards along the way and the destination is well worth it for sure.

These ancient cliff formations seemed like welcoming guardians. Everywhere you look, there are shapes that look like one thing one way, but look away and back again and you’ll see something else. The way the light and shadows played on the canyon walls during the morning was really fun and interesting to watch.

Palatki - start of trail

At the beginning of the trail heading to the Visitor Center. It was extra fun to share this day with my local friend, Nema. This is like home to her and it was great to hear her perceptions.

Palatki - caretaker

I thought this looked like a fantastic RV spot, don’t you? I understand they have no problem filling the caretaker positions here. There is a small visitor center across from this site with water, a few snacks and souvenirs. This is where you meet for the guided tour.

Palatki - rocky path

The trail is not long or particularly difficult, but there are some up/down and rocky steps and I find that a hiking stick is always a good idea, no matter how level a trail looks at first.

Palatki - Me & Nema

Me and Nema at the main wall ruins.

Palatki - Me on tour

The beauty of both the remaining ancient structure made by man and the natural beauty of the walls by Creator were a stunning pair.

Here’s a 2.4 minute YouTube video that shows a little part of the guided tour of the cliff dwellings.

Palatki - doorway

It’s amazing to me that such basic mortar has held these stones together all this time!

Palatki - Path to petroglyphs

The trail to the pictographs and petroglyphs is in the opposite direction of the ruins, so we’re headed there now.

Palatki - Me & Gift Giver

I read this about the dark coloring on the surface of some of the cliffs:

“Water flowing over the “slickrock” continues to cut channels in the sandstone cliffs and stains them with dark stripes of “desert varnish” – a thin, shiny coat of manganese and iron. The iron content is also responsible for the red color of the sandstone.”

As usual, the scientific explanation does not do justice to the magic in places like this. I was fascinated by the images the stains left and when I looked at this section, I had a vision of a “Gift Giver.” She seemed to be holding something cupped in her hands ready to be outstretched and I told her of my abiding prayer for Peace of Mind and Unwavering Faith. I tell ya, all kinds of mystical things can happen in sacred grounds like this!

Palatki - ceiling overhang

The guide was informative and showed us artifacts found in the area and pointed out the pictographs and petroglyph figures. What’s the difference? “Pictographs are designed, painted or drawn on the rock’s surface. Petroglyphs are pecked, pounded, scratched, carved or ground into rock.”

Palatki - wall of petroglyphs

In some places, the walls were so covered, it was hard to take them all in, and some are difficult to make out.

Palatki - Collage 1 of petroglyphs

I made a few collages to try to zero in on the images so they show up better, but it really is glorious to see them all in one place.

Palatki - Collage 2 of petroglyphs

Some are obviously animals, but the guide said in some cases what archeologists guessed were refuted by Hopi elders who visited the site, so they really can’t say they know anything for sure.

Palatki - Collage 3 of petroglyphs

He did say it is believed that the top image of the squiggly line with the sun above is some kind of solar calendar, but couldn’t really say how it was used.

At the Visitor Center, I bought the “Guide to the Heritage Sites of Coconino National Forest Red Rock District” and I resonated with this conclusion:

“It is true that we cannot apply our Western traditional systems of symbolism and thought to understand what the rock art meant to people hundreds of years ago. These people were of a different time, of a different culture, with different religious beliefs, and different survival needs.

Some believe that rock art, of any type, should never be interpreted since no direct descendants remain and only someone of that culture could understand their intent.”

I think that sometimes when we over-analyze something, the magic is lost, so just enjoy and let your imagination play and appreciate it for what it is and be thankful for what remains whether we understand it logically or not.

Lessons of The Spring

I also thought it was so interesting and revealing of modern vs. ancient attitudes toward natural resources as I learned of the more modern settlers here.

Charles Willard began a homestead here in the 1920s and evidence of his mark is also found on the site, including remaining fruit trees he planted in the same field where the Sinagua people planted their crops.

There was a natural spring that reliably provided for the ancient people who originally lived here for hundreds of years. But in the early 1900s, Mr. Willard decided he needed more water and tried to increase its flow by dynamiting it. The result was to dam up the flow rather than increasing it. To me, a prime example of the ultimate consequences of greed.

From Info Sign:
The Sinaqua: People of the Red Rocks

The Sinagua arrived in the Arizona’s Red Rocks Country about A.D. 650 and flourished between A.D. 1150 and 1250. Those who lived along the streams may have specialized in farming while those who lived in the uplands may have hunted deer and antelope and gathered wild foods. The exchange of foods between the uplands and lowlands may have unified the Sinagua into formal communities.

One of the largest and most important communities was the cliff dwelling of Palatki. It is thought to be the ancestral home of the Hopi people…their traditions affirm that their ancestors lived in the large ruins of the Verde Valley.

Palatki - Road to Honanki

Leaving Palatki headed to Honanki

We then took off for nearby Honanki Heritage Site. I’m working on the pictures of that special place now and will share link here when I’m finished.

How Bad is the Road to Palatki?

Here’s a 2.5 minute condensed You Tube video from my dash cam showing road conditions on Forest Roads 525 and 795:

I allowed an hour from in-town Sedona because I knew I wanted to go slow, not only because of road conditions, but because I stop frequently to take pictures and just savor the scenery along the way. I actually thought that was plenty of time, but it turned out we got there just in time to be there 15 minutes early as requested for their first tour by appointment time at 9:45 a.m.

Google Map Directions to Palatki:

Palatki Map Map shows two routes – I had heard the road was rough either way, so I called to ask which way was best. The Ranger said from Sedona taking Dry Creek Road to Boynton Pass Road would cut about 4 miles of driving on the rough road, so I opted for that. I had been on Forest Road 525 before from 89A for a few miles when checking out Sedona Area Boondocking, and didn’t relish a longer trip on it.

Map - Palatki and Honanki If you plan on going on to nearby Honanki Heritage Site (no reservations needed there), here’s map between them.  The Forest Road 525 part from Palatki to Honanki seemed rougher than Forest Road 795 that I got on from Boynton Canyon Road to Palatki. But regardless, just go slow because the trip and the destination is so worth it!

Helpful Tips for Visiting Palatki:

You must call for reservations since the area next to the cliff dwelling is limited to ten visitors at a time: 982-282-3854

Open 7 days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Interagency Pass required. A Red Rock Pass can be purchased from the vending machine at the Palatki Visitors Center.

While the trail is not long or difficult, it is rocky in places, so take their advice and wear sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots. I always bring my hiking stick and wear a hat, and both sure came in handy! Even though it was October with reasonable temps, it still gets warm on the trail, so be sure to bring lots of water.

There is drinking water and a vault toilet at the parking lot. The Visitor’s Center has water for sale and a few snacks. There are no picnic tables, but I wished I had brought lunch because I was there longer than I thought.  Even though we were part of the first tour at 9:45, by the time I had my fill of hiking around, it was 12:30 and I was hungry. Since we wanted to go to Honanki Heritage Site next and there was absolutely nowhere close to get anything to eat and I wanted as little time on those roads as possible, we snacked on trail mix, but I suggest you bring more provisions. That being said, I bought this trail mix for the first time here: Prickly Pear Trail Mix by Desert Gatherings. I wish I had bought more once I discovered how absolutely delicious it is and will be looking for it at other gift shops and visitor centers.

There are other books here, but I’ve really enjoyed the short “Guide to the Heritage Sites of Coconino National Forest Red Rock District” that includes Palatki, Honanki and V Bar V. Great coverage in a brief format that still explains much more than they can cover on the tour.

Please share: I’d love to hear from you in Comments below if you’ve been here and want to share your impressions or have questions!

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