Palatki Cultural Site and Fay Canyon

Cottonwood, AZ

After hiking two miles into Old Cottonwood for breakfast, we set out to visit some historical Indian sites north of Sedona.  Once into the back country we came upon a sign for the Palatki Cultural Site.  Since it was only a few miles up the road, we headed in that direction. When we arrived, the volunteer asked if we had an appointment.  We never heard of a site operated by the National Park Service that required a reservation but she said since there was limited room at the site they took reservations for visitors.  Since there weren’t many visitors, we were permitted to go up the path to the cliffs were many walls are  covered with pictographs.

Scene on the road to Palatki Historical Site

The cliffs behind the parking lot

After going up a short trail, we came to the ledge area where Native Americans drew hundreds of pictographs.   Two examples are shown below.  Our docent explained that ancestors of Native American’s lived in the area from around 1150 to 1300 CE.  Palatki was one of the largest cliff dwellings of the Red Rock country between 1150 A.D. and 1300 A.D. Many of the pictographs on the rock walls are from the Sinagua, however, some of the more abstract symbols and drawings are from ancient cultures, which date back 3000–6000 years ago.

In 1927 Charles Willard, one of the founders of nearby Cottonwood decided, when in his mid-60s, to start a fruit farm in the land around the cliffs.  For the first two years he and his workers lived under an overhang on the cliff behind a wall they built.

Exterior wall to Willard’s room

Willard’s room

Willard built a nice ranch house at the base of the cliff that is now used for the visitor’s center.  He was able to grow several varieties of fruit trees using irrigation canals.  Many of those trees still stand today and continue to bear fruit.  Willard died at the age of 99.

While we were checking out the pictographs, a docent came up the cliff with two archaeology students.  He stopped where we were and invited us and others in the same area to join him as he lead a tour of an area normally closed to foot traffic.  In the picture below he shows us the “Pit”, an area where Native Americans baked Agave in a yearly ceremony.  They would heat large rocks in a fire in the dark rock recess on the left, then place them in a pit dug in the loose soil on the right.  The pit would have a layer of rocks, a layer of local grasses, a layer of the “heart” of the agave, then another layer of grass with a final top layer of heated rocks.  The agave would remain in the pit for days, baking in a giant crock pot.

Returning to the visitor’s center we were told the cliff dwellings present on the site were closed for the day.  So we drove a few miles to a trailhead at Fay Canyon for a hike a little more than a mile into the canyon.

Fay Canyon

Since it was late in the afternoon, the trail was in the shadows while the sun was shining strongly on the northern canyon walls above us.  Below are some pictures of some of the great views.

As you drive or hike through the area, it seems that there is a beautiful scene around every corner.  Tomorrow is Monday so the weekend visitors will be back home where they belong, leaving the trails to professional explorers (like us).  So we will be forced to again go into places where no man (or woman) has gone before.  More on those explorations later . . .

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1 Response to Palatki Cultural Site and Fay Canyon

  1. Marsha says:

    Another wonderful stop…Palatki Cultural Site. I know I said this before, but I just love pictographs. Such stories they tell.

    I can’t even image 1150 to 1300 CE. It doesn’t seem possible that there was life here in the US. We only hear about life that old in the Far East.

    Wonder why Charles choose that area for his farm. Seems odd.

    Did they use the Agave to make tequila?….hehe

    Great views is an understatement.

    I think someone is copping an attitude about those poor people that have to work for a living. Let’s be nice now.

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