Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Elden Pueblo

It’s hard to believe that one can just pull off from US-89 in Flagstaff and be transported back close to 1,000 years.

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.”

A community room, underscoring the “coming together” Hopi verbal history. It apparently was continually remodeled, with many layers of floors with basins and fire pits. The size of this one room indicates the significance of this pueblo to the region.

The orange netting in the background secures an active excavation site.

Doorways or wall passages are largely missing in these structures. It is believed that entry was via openings in the roof, using ladders. For all I know, this might possibly have been a security measure. I’m sure someone knows, they just haven’t spelled it out prominently.

What catches one by surprise in this little roadside attraction is the sheer size of the layout, considering that the vast majority of rooms are quite small.

The structure evolved over time as more people moved in. Food prep was apparently done in large, open, but roofed areas, with all the accoutrements needed, built in. This was quite the fad a few years ago, called “outdoor kitchens”.

Various pits had various purposes. This one is a shallow dish. Afew pieces of burned wood are in it now, but that means nothing.

These are purported to be “experimental” check dams, an effort to slow down water flow in a wash, so that crops of squash, corn, cotton and beans have a fighting chance in the dry, short growing season here. Terraces and reservoirs were similarly used. I think the universal significance we attach to the nomadic Plains tribes is overplayed quite a bit for various purposes.

Did I mention “sprawling”?

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2 thoughts on “Elden Pueblo

  1. I believe 1250 is the date of the Little Ice Age start & has been a time of other pueblo abandonments that I’ve seen. Nothing scientific, just something I’ve noticed.

    The roof top door ways have been the usual in the ground level site I’ve stopped at. Again nothing scientific on my part, just what I’ve seen. I guess I need to look at some of them built well off the ground & see if they still used the rooftop.

    Safe travels!

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