Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 3: Palatki Cliff Dwellings and Pictrographs

Distance: 0.6 miles round trip to view the pictographs, 0.6 miles to walk the cliff dwelling loop for total of 1.2 miles.
Elevation: 4,800-4,850 ft
Elevation Gain: 50 ft.

Palatki Pictographs

If you visit one Sinagua site in the Sedona area, make it this one. The site sits beneath an 800 ft red cliff. It dominates the site and looms dramatically in the distance as one approaches it. The site has both pictrographs and a cliff dwellings but only a one-seater bathroom, so plan accordingly. You will make new friends while standing in line.

Rocks from Road 525

Road 525

You do need reservations to visit. Call (928) 282-3854 for information. The site opens at 9:30 AM but when we called at 9:45 AM we still got a recording. It is Forest Service Volunteers who man the phones and the small visitor’s station, so don’t expect the punctuality one would expect from fully pensioned Federal employees. If you do end up leaving a message like we did be sure to tell them what time you are coming because they will get annoyed if you don’t.

Cliffs around Palatki. The alcove on the left is where the pictographs are located.

Pictograph Trail

There are two ways to get to Palatki. The map you get in town advises driving up 89A towards Cottonwood. From there you need to take Forest Road (FR) 525. Note that there is a small brown sign with this number on it about 50 yards before the turn off. This is the only sign so don’t blink. FR 525 is a long dirt road passable by passenger cars as long as you don’t mind a lot of washboard jiggling. The other way to get there is via Sedona’s back roads, Dry Creek and they Boynton Pass. This is by far the more scenic route and it is paved for longer. I put detailed directions of this route at the bottom of the post. I would recommend going that way, it is just prettier.

Rocks along the pictograph trail

Ancient Scratchings

It was very pleasant out at the site. The pictographs are in two alcoves, each with a docent. The views of the area from these picturesque spots made me wish for a Barcalounger. The ancient Sinaguans understood location, location, location. Just to the left of the pictographs was a spring. So not only did they have protection and beauty, they also had running water.

View from the alcove

Giant Agave Bug (Acanthocephala thomasi). This bug drinks the nectar of the Agave plant, the source of Tequilla. Now that is my kind of meal.

The pictographs at this site are very unusual. There are bears, headless figures, and other unusual anthropomorphic figures. There are also large scratches in the wall that I thought was vandalism but turned out to be ancient and authentic. In the local Indian tradition, shamans would scratch at the walls to enter the spirit world. Some of the pictographs are believed to be several thousand years old.


Palatki Ruins

The trip to the cliff dwelling takes you a across an open field, across a creek, and up some steep steps to the wall. The dwelling itself is not overwhelmingly impressive but the setting is pleasing. We saw a Cardinal and a Scrub Jay on the way back to the car, so there is some wildlife in the area.

Palatki Ruins from the side

There is another site nearby, Honanki, which is not as good but since you are already there, you might as well go see it too. Just be prepared for the hordes. One of the local jeep touring companies takes folks to that site. Don't pay money for that trip, however, you can get there easily by yourself.

Directions (the more scenic route): Drive 2.9 miles up Dry Creek Road out of Sedona to the Long Canyon intersection. Stay left and drive another 1.6 miles to the Boynton Canyon intersection. Go left and drive another 4 miles to the intersection with Forest Road 525. 2 miles of this last pitch are on a dirt road. The dirt continues to the site. 0.1 miles from the 525 intersection is a fork. The right fork goes to Palatki, the left to Honanki. It is 1.7 miles on the right fork to the site.


Sylvia said...

Hello there, Sylvia Murphy - I have just found your blog and as we share a name I thought I would introduce myself. Even though we live half a world away from each other, and I am half as old again as you are, I think we have a lot in common. I have been a great outdoorsy in my time - was a certificated Mountain Leader for the UK education service. I love your Colorado pix and descriptions. I love your list of interests - I have only been to the USA once, when my son married his New Yorker girlfriend a few yers ago - The Rockies have always been one of my travel musts but I probably wont make it now beause I have Parkinson's Dis which increasingly limits my adventures. My main interest these days is writing - books, stories, poetry, as you will see if you visit my blogspot on

Great to meet up with you in cyberspace.


Sylvia Murphy

sylvia murphy said...

Well hello there SM! I will post a longer greeting on your site directly. A friend of mine gave me a copy of one of your books many years ago as a lark. So I have known about much longer!

For everyone, I am going to correct your blog address. The correct one is: