Monday, April 18, 2005

Echoes from the Road: Palatki Ruins, Sedona, AZ

Last week I was in Arizona doing some appearances in Tucson and Sedona. Taking a little time before I headed home, I visited the Sinagua ruins of Palatki and Honanki in the Verde Valley. These two ancient cliff dwellings lie to the west of Sedona and are part of the Coconino National Forest, Red Rock Area. The ruins were built by the Sinagua, a culture between the Anasazi to the north and the Hohokam to the south. The Sinagua are thought to have been in the Verde Valley since A.D. 600. The ruins of Palatki and Honanki, however, date to about A.D. 1125.

Palatki is tucked into the Red Rock cliffs outside Sedona.

One of the main ruins in the East Alcove. Note the "shield" designs on the cliff wall behind the ruins. These could be clan signs. Other theories are that shields are defensive signs, symbols of power and may have even had magical, protective associations.

More of the left part of the East Alcove ruin.

Another image of the East Alcove.

During my time in Sedona I met the flute maker J.P. Gomez. He had kindly gifted me some flutes and I took this wonderful Black Walnut flute in the key of E to play among the ruins. J.P. Gomez makes great flutes and we'll be looking and listening to some of his instruments in future postings.

Looking toward the West Alcove which is closed to the public.

The ruins of Palatki are next to a major rock art site. There are hundreds of petroglyphs and pictographs in four alcoves along a 0.2 mile long trail that date from approximately 12,000 years ago to the Anglo settlers of the early 20th Century.
As with many Rock Art sites, images of flute players abound. Know by the Hopi name Kokopelli, the hump-backed flute player is a fertility figure and is an important deity to the cultures of the historic and prehistoric Southwest. His image is found all over, and he is associated with impregnating women, carrying seeds or babies on his back from village to village, and is often associated with rain and waters symbols. He is also part of the reproduction of animals and his flute playing is said to chase away winter and bring in spring. Usually depicted with a large phallus Kokopelli is known for his womanizing and is part of the trickster iconography of native cultures.

This symbol is also thought to represent the sun but could also be another shield. This one was originally made by the prehistoric Sinagua but was later traced over by historic Yavapai or Apache. Perhaps to rejuvenate the power of the symbol.

During the early Sinagua occupation of the Verde Valley there was frequent contact with the Hohokam culture to the south. Casa Grande is the most famous Hohokam site and was profiled in an earlier posting: Casa Grande Ruins, Arizona.The dancers in this pictograph remind me of images of Hohokam "dancers" found in their art. Most commonly images from their Red-on-Buff pottery of the Sacaton period and images from the South Mountains.

An animal figure with a large, and odd shaped, head.

Two animal figures with large tails.

A star figure. Star figures from the Colorado plateau are sometimes associated with the Morning Star, Venus, or the warrior deity Sotuqnangu, or Heart of the Sky. Sotuqnangu is a major Hopi deity with the face of a star. The Morning Star and Venus are also know to be important warrior iconographic elements to the Meso American cultures of the Aztec and the Mayan. Did stars have the same meaning for the Sinagua?

Friends of the Forest. 2004. Palatki Red Cliffs: Tour Guide

Rose Houk. 1992. The Sinagua. Western National Parks Association.

David Grant Noble, ed. 1991. The Hohokam: Ancient People of the Desert. School of American Research.

Polly Schaafsma. 2000. Warrior, Shield and Star, Imagery and Ideology of Pueblo Warfare. Western Edge Press.

Polly Schaafsma. 2001. Indian Rock Art of the Southwest. School of American Research.

To read more about other travels I’ve taken in the southwest visit the ECHOES FROM THE ROAD section of

For more information about Palatki visit the COCONINO NATIONAL FOREST - RED ROCK AREA web pages.


  1. Hello there,
    I stumbled across your blog and when I read your post about Sedona and the Red Rock region in Arizona it brought make wonderful memories of my childhood. Loved the pictures as well. Thanks for the memories. :)

    Corrie Ann

  2. Thanks Corrie Ann. Sedona is a magical place. Not at all like Los Angeles... I plan to do most postings about the ruins of Honanki and some of the natural scenery too. For a musical memory take a listen to Sedona Sunries from my CD "New Fire".

  3. Scott, your pictures and comments were terrific. I am of native american and hispanic heritage. These pictures remind me of my youth while in Utah and California.

    I think I'll look up some of your music now!

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