Tomorrow begins the 8-day commute back to Illinois, so I resupplied one last time in Flagstaff, Arizona and found a comparatively noisy haven at a Conoco Travel Center on the far north side of the city. Literally across the street from the so-called Carter Travel Center at 7180 US-89, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, is the Elden Pueblo, a very early settlement of what have been later dubbed the Sinagua People. It seems that when Sunset Crater Volcano, 10 miles northeast, erupted in about 1,000AD, it coincided with a 20-year drought and motivated the locals to move to higher, moister elevations than before. Being Puebloan people, a few families set up camp and started construction.
I won’t get into the rather extensive details provided by a brochure at the site (which gets into a spot-by-spot description of what you’re probably looking at), but I will recite the points that I found notable. More people moved in, and by 1150AD, this site became a significant trade center, with artifacts found having come in from the Gulf of California, the Pacific shores, and what is now Mexico. Other Puebloan tribes from the north and east also traded wares and weapons. I personally find that significant, because the Spanish did not hit the continental shores with horses until 1519. The pueblo’s population doubled around 1250AD when another drought hit, expanding to 65 rooms in a sprawling, two-story structure. But continued dry conditions and cooler temperatures shortened the crop growing seasons, and by 1275AD they started moving out to the south and east to join larger villages there. The best guess is that they were gradually assimilated into the Hopi and Zuni cultures to the south and east by 1400AD. Significantly, abandonment of pueblos, by tradition, was to set fire to them and let them burn out. I suspect there was a statement there, and probably some spiritual significance.
Few Native Americans lived in the Flagstaff area after that, so when the honkies moved in – er, I mean the Euro-Americans – in the 1870s, they pretty much had it to themselves. The assigned Elden name comes from a sheepherder after whom Mt. Elden is named as well. The pueblos were not discovered until 1916, when Mary-Russel Ferrell Colton stumbled over it while horseback riding. She and her husband, Harold, founded the Museum of Northern Arizona and began an archeological survey of the entire area. The find interested two men from the Smithsonian, which prompted a dig in 1926 using a dozen men. They unearthed 35 rooms and 2,500 artifacts. A little more digging by someone from Northern Arizona University 1966-1968 took place, but by 1978, the U.S. Forest Service was thinking about trading the area off for other land. Testing indicated that the site was still “intact”(?) and worthy of preservation, so they kept it. In 1980, it was decided to allow the “public” in the form of school children (sounds like a political decision, doesn’t it?) to have access to the site, as well as the general public. There was an Arizona Historical Society cargo trailer parked there when I visited, along with two portable toilets marked “boys” & “girls”. It looked like there was a further excavation being done in a pit.
All told, perhaps 20 people initially started the pueblo, and there may have been 100 before the population sailed to 200 in its final years. Fertile soil was nearby, and well as two springs within two miles. It is claimed that the climate here was milder and more consistent than elsewhere in Flagstaff. Construction is largely rock with mud chinking or mortaring, and poles were used to support the roof and/or a second story. Was “Sinagua” their actual name? Nope. They were named by us, as derived from the Spanish for the San Francisco Peaks, or “Sierra Sin Agua”, or “mountains without water”. The Hopi name for this pueblo is Paslovl (Pah-SEE-Oh-Vee), which means “the place of coming together” or “the place of making decision”. As the brochure puts it, “It figures prominently in the traditions of several Hopi clans, and before World War II, offerings and prayers were made here during annual pilgrimages to the San Francisco Peaks.”