Palatki Ruins and Petroglyphs are a unique historical experience. Visits to Europe have opened my eyes to “history” where things are thousands of years old – still standing and still in use. We don’t have as many examples of that in the U.S. so it was particularly interesting to visit Palatki Ruins and Petroglyphs and reflect on the people who lived here 1,500 years ago, and others who left markings as long as 6,000 years ago.
Palatki is a Hopi Indian word meaning “red house”. The cliff dwelling was built by the Sinagua Indians (Spanish for “without water”) about 1150 and was mysteriously abandoned at about 1300. The cliff dwelling site is two stories tall, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get very close since they discovered a major crack in the rock wall above that will potentially shear a large chunk of rock off and allow viewing only from a distance at this point.
The Petroglyphs, or rock art, site is near the cliff dwelling ruins, but the two sites are unrelated. The pictographs and petroglyphs on the wall of the red cliffs date back to 6,000 years ago, thousands of years before the Sinagua built the cliff dwelling.
The rock art includes ancient pictorial writings left by numerous native prehistoric people that preceded the Sinaguas. There are even writings and names carved into the rocks by settlers in the area dated in the 1880s. The ranger was very helpful in pointing out certain images and prefaced each statement with “it might mean” or “it could indicate"…so interesting to me that this was important communication then and we don’t know for sure what they were communicating. Does that say “meet us here in the fall”? Are those squiggly lines “good place to capture rainwater in the spring”?
The Willard Homestead
The other thing I found interesting about this area was the story of Charles Willard. Mr. Willard discovered the site in the 1920s and decided to homestead. While he built his home (which is now the visitor center), Mr. Willard – at 77 years old – lived in a stone dwelling below a cliff near the petroglyphs. He planted an orchard with 2,000 trees, a handful of which still stand, in the Sinaguan vegetable garden. Even by today’s standards one living in this area would be considered a rugged individualist. He must have really wanted to get away from it all.
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