Photos: Pueblo Sites

Ancient Wisdom  |  06/11/2016

Betatakin, AZ

Oddly located with Kiet Siel in what is called “Navajo National Monument,” neither of these two ruins were built by Navajo. These ruins of ancient pueblo villages were occupied by clans of the Hisatsinom ancestors of the pueblo peoples, most notably the Hopi. Our guide acknowledged Zapotec heritage among his pueblo blood, exemplifying yet another deep connection between the ancient people of Mesoamerica and the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest U.S.

Betatakin is a decently healthy hike from the visitors center, and well worth it. While we were not allowed to walk among the ruins, we were allowed to get very close.

Kiet Siel, AZ

The hike to Kiet Siel (“Broken House”) is listed as 10 miles each way, but certainly felt longer to us. While there’s not much vertical there are several water crossings and a lot of muck to trudge through, but every step is worth it. It requires prior notification as limited numbers of people are allowed access, and you will be met with an NPS representative at the ruins. We left before our guide and despite a rampant pace he passed us with about a mile to go.

The ruins of Kiet Siel are amazing – this is the best example of a pueblo ruin I’ve ever seen, and you are allowed to climb through it carefully with the guide. Pottery, tools and corn cobs lie throughout the ruins as if the former residents left yesterday. This one is a bit grueling, but you are allowed to camp for the night if you’d like. Highly suggested.

Canyon de Chelly, AZ

The coldest night we’ve ever spent camping was at the top of a cliff at Canyon de Chelly. There’s nothing quite like breaking the icicles that formed at the top of the tent from your breath, and watching boiling water begin to freeze over. Were it not for a pair of dogs – Boy and Miss Woof, who laid on us to keep us warm through the night – we really would’ve froze.

White House ruin is very impressive, as is the scenery no matter where you look. Canyon de Chelly is also home to Spider Rock, where the Navajo believe Spider Woman was born, the deity who taught them to weave.

Chaco Canyon, NM

Chaco Canyon is one of the most incredible ancient sites we’ve experienced anywhere, let along in the present-day United States. It takes some work to get to, and it’s huge, so it’s easy to find yourself alone pondering the magnitude of this work. In addition to Pueblo Bonito, the largest of more than a dozen Chaco great houses there are numerous subterranean ceremonial chambers called kivas as well. Each great house had 200-800 rooms, and kivas were constructed at a rate of approximately 1 per 30 rooms.

We explore Chaco Canyon and its inhabitants, the ancient ancestors of the Hopi and other pueblo peoples referred to by the Hopi as the Hisatsinom. “Anasazi” is a Navajo term meaning “ancient enemy,” oddly employed by a people that borrowed much of their history from the pueblo neighbors they referred to as enemies.

Tonto National Monument, AZ

We were on this trip into Tonto National Forest to find some un-excavated pueblo ruins that uncle Bob came up with the idea for Road2Ruins. We also almost died trying to get the Jeep up an old logging road that had washed out big-time through monsoon storms, revealing an estimated 800-foot drop on the passenger side as we climbed. When we finally decided there was no way in hell we were making it, Rob had to climb over the Jeep’s hood from his seat as there was no shoulder between us and the drop-off.

Rob guided me down slowly in reverse, we breathed deeply, found one of the best campsites ever and had a few cold ones. When we woke in the morning we saw the footsteps of our big kitty friend, all the way around our tent. Beautiful and unique area, and there are two sets of ruins to see at Tonto National Monument – we were only able to see the close ones on this trip and are looking to get back to the scene of the crime for more.


Walnut Canyon, AZ

Walnut Canyon is a unique area containing many ancient pueblo cliff dwellings near Flagstaff, AZ. This site is very easily accessed off the freeway, and the short hike is beautiful. As you walk near the ruins and look across at others, it’s easy to envision the time when the Canyon was filled with the lights of individual fires.

Interestingly, people lived on and farmed the rim of the canyon until the 1100s, when they began to live in cliff dwellings. This is contemporaneous with the demise of Chaco Canyon. Were these people fleeing the darkness awoken there? According to the National Park Service this site was inhabited by the “Sinagua,” another great term meaning “we don’t know who they were.” “Sinagua” literally means “without water,” which could apply to any group of people throughout the Southwest.

Wupatki National Monument, AZ

Wupatki is built on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Verde Valley near Cottonwood, AZ. While many pueblo ruins in the region are built in cliffside, Wupatki bucks this trend. This could be due to the fact that cliff dwellings seem to have appeared during and after the demise of Chaco Canyon around 1150AD, presumably by people fleeing the darkness evoked at Chaco we hear so much about. Wupatki was built in 500AD, and shows signs of one group of people that may have directed the darkness of Chaco – the Maya. There are remains of several Mesoamerican ball courts throughout the Southwest, and one is right here at Wupatki.