March 10th, 2011
Over Spring break I visited family in Arizona. While I was there I went hiking in Sedona at the Red Rocks State Park. The park was breathtaking, with many trails leading to outlooks onto massive rock formations in the distance. The signature crimson color of the rocks comes from iron oxide staining. There are nine stone layers composed of sandstone, limestone and basalt, representing millions of years and different geological periods.
In about 1000 AD, a group of native peoples settled in the area of Sedona. This group is called the Sinagua Indians, meaning literally Without Water in Spanish. As you can guess, they managed to use agricultural methods that required little to no water to farm the dry environment. The Sinagua used irrigation ditches and check dams of the few rivers to grow their crops. They supplemented these farming practices with hunting and gathering. The Indians formed a stratified social system and also interacted with neighboring groups.
Volcanic activity at the Sunset Crater in the northern part of the region created a disturbance for the Sinagua. The crater erupted several times over a few years, blanketing the earth in ash. However, the Sinagua soon returned to the eruption area and established themselves again.
The interesting thing about the Sinagua is their strange disappearance. About a hundred years before Spanish explorers arrived in the area it seems the group vanished for no apparent reason. As we have learned about other ‘vanishing’ cultures, its likely something to do with environmental problems. Perhaps a major drought made normal life nearly impossible for the Sinagua? Life is very difficult with little to no water. Even though this group was very well adapted to having dry conditions, they were still vulnerable to mother nature. It should be a reminder for us to tread carefully with our water supplies and usage.
In Red Rocks state park there is a river that runs through the main park area called Oak Creek. This was likely one of the water sources for the Sinagua and later became a major source for European settlers. Early settlers used the riversides to plant apple and peach orchards. The river creates a stark contrast with the rest of the rocky arid landscape. The Red Rocks park personnel seemed especially proud of this ‘water feature’. The diversity of life explodes wherever there is water in Arizona. I am glad to see this portion of land protected as a state park. It is beautiful and unique.