While doing research for my latest novel, Trouble in Store, I realized I needed to learn more about Native American cliff dwellings. As enjoyable as it is to study about historic sites in books and online, it’s even more fun to visit them in person. Fortunately, a number of protected sites are within easy reach here in northern Arizona.
One of those is found at beautiful Walnut Canyon, a short drive east of Flagstaff. This site captured my imagination the first time I saw it at age nine, and over the years I’ve become more fascinated with each visit.
Inhabited by the Sinagua people some 900 years ago, the homes in Walnut Canyon were constructed within the limestone ledges in the canyon walls.
The ruins can be reached by way of a steep trail hugging the cliff walls. And that’s one of the things I love most about Walnut Canyon. Visitors don’t have to experience this glimpse into the past at arm’s length. Instead, they’re able to walk in the steps of those who came before, peer into the soot-stained rooms and touch the walls erected so long ago.
Hiking along the narrow path, I tried to envision myself living there centuries ago and wondering about the challenges a mother would have faced in that setting. Can you imagine what it would be like to keep track of a brood of young children, with no baby gates, no fenced lawn to keep them corralled? Or when your “front yard” was only a few feet wide . . . and one false step would lead straight down to the bottom of the rocky canyon?
I’m glad to be a mother in this century. Parenting has never been a simple task, but I’ll take most modern problems over the ones those ancient moms faced any day!
About 50 miles farther south is Montezuma Castle National Monument, located near Camp Verde.
Like the dwellings in Walnut Canyon, Montezuma Castle isn’t what most of us picture when we think of a Native American encampment. Instead of lodges or tepees clustered in a village, this centuries-old, high-rise apartment is nestled into the side of a towering limestone cliff. Try to imagine the logistics of something as simple as making a daily trek to gather food or get water!
These rooms didn’t boast a lot of closet space, so some of the residents’ food and other supplies were kept in storage caves at the bottom of the cliff wall—sort of a “downstairs pantry” concept.
While staring from the abandoned dwellings above to the caves below, I felt a tingle. Suddenly, I could see a similar cliff dwelling as part of the area surrounding my fictional town of Cedar Ridge. That mental image inspired the background for several pivotal scenes in the book.
That’s one of the things I love most about research—you just never know when some tidbit of information will prove to be the very thing that sparks an idea that breathes life into a scene!
Many thanks to Karen Witemeyer for inviting me to spend time with you today! I’ll be giving away a copy of Trouble in Store, so be sure to leave a comment in order to be included in the drawing.