Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

May 4, 2012

The Legacy of the Ancient Ones


by Ilaine Packman

On a very warm April 23rd the Trackers group of the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club left for a two-part outing that promised hiking plus archeology, geology and history of the early Sinagua people in our locale. The leader for the day was George Witteman, a Westerner who has become extremely knowledgeable about the evidence of Sinaguan presence.

We drove out Verde Valley School Road to the Baldwin Trail. The trailhead guided us first through a sandy-grassy area before moving onto slick-rock shallow ups and downs. Soon after beginning the hike, George led us to a small, unobtrusive knoll on which there are the remains of a "pit-house", not easily seen within today’s vegetation.

These early dwellings came by the name “pit-houses” due to their floors being about 3 feet below ground level, according to scientists, with added walls about three feet above ground. Clusters of these dwellings, each group likely occupied by approximately six families, were widely spaced along this area of Oak Creek. Apparently the 'Ancient Ones' seemed to understand that the regular distancing of their adjacent lands meant each small agricultural plot would not be overworked. In ancient times water was plentiful there, so this comfortable environment easily supported their family groups.

The multiple panels of petroglyphs at the V-Bar-V Ranch intrigue all who view them, including local Westerners Hiking Club members on a recent April day. Researchers have determined a planting calendar which utilizes "sun daggers." In the photo above , in addition to the many figures, a slender, vertical rock in a long crack is seen, whose scalloped edge casts a silhouette similar to the San francisco peaks skyline when viewed from the side. Photo by Alan Gore.

Evidence of the Sinagua has been found in potsherds, but more surprisingly, also in the presence of a few pieces of obsidian, a shiny black glassy rock of volcanic origin. The obsidian presence requires some deduction: since it is not naturally found here, how did it get here, and what might that tell us about this culture? It is thought by geologists and archeologists that these peoples engaged in trade for the precious obsidian, essential for cutting tools and arrows they fashioned. But what did the Sinagua have that they could trade? Cultural studies indicate that they grew cotton and produced high quality woven cloth. Small fabric pieces have been found and studied by experts at the Museum of Northern Arizona, who confirmed the cloth would have been an exceptionally sought-after trade good. The colors and weave show masterful skills.

Continuing then, east toward Cathedral Rock on the Baldwin trail, we descended to the Templeton Trail with Michael Dalley as our tailgater. A grassy open area provided a fine view of Cathedral Rock, with Oak Creek burbling off to our left. We learned that there are some petroglyphs well hidden above us on the cliffs - additional evidence of early habitation along the creek.

As the day warmed, a relaxed lunch along the creek was welcomed on slick-rock not far from what some call Buddha Beach. For our mid-day entertainment, a family group with a small boy enjoyed the creek's cool splashes, treating each other and us with their play. Other hikers with their dogs were equally happy to be playing in the water in the mid-day heat. They found a long spear-shaped branch, and repeatedly flung it across the water for the eager dogs' retrieval. The dogs were loving it - a classic Chamber of Commerce scene!

After returning to the Baldwin Trailhead, we drove to V-Bar-V Ranch with its large petroglyph panels. George Witteman held our attention, describing fascinating details. In addition to hundreds of figures and symbols on the panel, archeo-astronomy researchers have identified a major calendar that makes use of “sun-daggers.” The ancients designed calendars by noting the way shadows moved as the year passed. They created designs on the cliff wall into which the shadows fell in such a way as to mark equinoxes or ceremony and planting times. Here, two small boulders stand out from the wall naturally, but have been worked on to enable the desired “dagger” shadow pattern, marking first, second, and third plantings, to fall across the stair-step shaped petroglyph.

We can only guess at many V-Bar-V petroglyph meanings. In addition to the above, a thin perpendicular rock protrudes, with its outer edge unevenly scalloped. George pointed out that the worked edge creates a silhouette shadow similar to the skyline formed by the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the south side of Flagstaff. Is that imagined by modern viewers, or was it the intent of the ancient artisan to reclaim the power of that sacred skyline here in the Verde Valley?

The learning that takes place on our hikes always provokes our respect and delight in this locale. This time thanks go to George Witteman for sharing what he has learned.

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website,, for membership information. You may also join at one of our monthly meetings at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona. The next one will be in the Fall.