Saturday, July 7, 2012

Day 13: June 26 – Stone Castles and Stone Forests

After bidding farewell to Marge and Diana, Natalie and I knew it was time to start heading home.  With west-to-east travel working against us now, and knowing the drive west was exhausting, we opted to break it up a bit and do some sight-seeing so there would not be long stretches in the car.

Heading north out of the greater Phoenix Area, and marveling at the lenticular clouds along the way, Montezuma’s Castle was the first stop.  Not to be confused with White Castle, this location has nothing to do with Montezuma (the Aztec Ruler) and was not built for defense.

Constructed around 1100AD, the Sinagua (SIN-uh-wah) are thought to have built this structure in the cliff face so they would not gobble up valuable farming real estate in the valley below.  With an array of farming skills and a vibrant trade with other groups in the region, a permanent settlement made good sense.   The south facing structure would get valuable winter sun.  Sadly, this location was picked over by treasure seekers decades before it became a National Park site in 1906 (Thanks Teddy! You da man!).  Official archaeological work was never done.  To this day, no one is allowed up into the “Castle” aside from staff excursions that are only done twice a year.  

Birding was not particularly strong. With the heat of the day, much of the bird activity had died off.  Of note where the Cliff Swallows that had built their mud-jug nests in the cliffs.  There is no doubt in my mind that these birds were the same one sharing the cliffs with the Sinagua.  Well, not the same birds…the same species….

The Sinauga did not disappear, by the way. Historians suggest they simply left over time and became a part of other cultures of the region.  In this case, there is a sharp difference between “disappear” and “assimilate.”

With the Verde River literally right below them and Montezuma Well not far, the Sinagua had more access to water than many people would think. Unfortunately for them, the Flagstaff Brewing Company, in Flagstaff, would not be around for another 900 years.  The Great Golden Ale, Weisspread Wheat, Bubbaganouj IPA, and Blackbird Porter (#1,275- 1,278) were all excellent, with the Wheat and Porter being especially good.   I had no complaints about raspberry turkey sandwich, either!

Pressing on from Flagstaff, a mandatory detour was made through the Petrified Forest National Park.  Early Europeans traveling the region literally tried to burn the trees, more or less oblivious to the fact that the trees (growing there 250 million years beforehand) had been petrified.  Our drive through the park was punctuated by gray skies and the occasional rains shower and lighting shot in the distance. But that did not stop us from enjoying the time.  No way.  

The vibrant colors, when the sun broke the clouds, were enough to make us say “Wow” as often as Mitt Romney changes his mind.  The view of “Newspaper Rock” showed more ancient graffiti while walking in and around Puerco Pueblo was simply tremendous.  Built around the 1200’s (or so) this was actually a large community housing perhaps 125 people.  The Kiva, resembling a primitive hot-tub, was used for religious ceremonies.  (Reports that Hugh Hefner used the Kiva as a hot-tub hundreds of years ago can not be confirmed or denied by archaeologists. Maybe his Bunnies were just Jack Rabbits.)  By 1380, everyone left after the structures were burned. No one knows why.  

Like Montezuma’s Castle, the place was not particularly birdy.  Rock Wren.  Ravens.  A Phainopepla.  That was about it, really. But so what.  800-year old rock carvings?  Cool.

With any storm (that aroma!) comes the possibility of a rainbow. Folks, we saw the fabled double rainbow. While my picture does not show it well, it is there.  For the record, we did not have the same reaction as this guy.

With the sun setting behind us (and the park now closed preventing evening photography at the Painted Desert), we pressed on to Grants, New Mexico for the night.

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