Painted Desert - Page 4
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People of the
Painted Desert & Petrified Forest
This region was first inhabited by the Paleo
People from 13,500 to 8000 B.C. By the end of the last Ice Age, hunter-gatherers roamed the Southwest.
During this time, the region was cooler with a grassland environment.
People gathered wild plants for food and hunted extinct forms of bison and
other large herd animals. The nomads used a device called an atlatl to
throw their spears and darts. With their distinctive elegant fluting, the
projectile points of these ancient people help define the Clovis and
Folsom Cultures. Folsom and Clovis camps have been found within
Petrified Forest National Park as well as fluted projectile points made of petrified
Following the Paleo People were the natives of the
Archaic Culture, who lived in the region from about 8000 to 500 B.C.
By 4000 B.C., the climate had become similar to that of today -- it was
warmer and the monsoon pattern of precipitation had evolved. Because many
of the large animals of the past were extinct, the people had to broaden their source of
food, including many different species of plants and animals. At this
time, the people transitioned from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary
about 500 B.C. the region was inhabited by what archeologists call the
Basketmaker era. These people were even more sedentary, living in stone-lined pit houses.
As the Basketmaker period progressed, settlements moved down from the mesa
and dune tops to the slopes closer to farm land. They grew corn, squash,
and, eventually, beans. They made beautiful baskets and Adamana Brown
pottery. Their tool kit changed and broadened. The bow and arrow were
introduced about A.D. 500. Petroglyphs throughout the area were created by
these people, including images of humans and animals. By about 650 A.D., use of above
ground architecture began to evolve from storage to habitation. It
appeared to have been a stressful period, with a major drought from 850 to 900
about 950 A.D., the region was inhabited by what are referred to as the
Ancestral Pueblo People, or Anasazi. While most of this period was similar in climate to the present, there was
a prolonged widespread drought from 1271 to 1296 A.D. Although a few people
still lived in pit houses, above ground rooms were becoming prominent.
Subterranean ceremonial rooms called kivas were introduced and sites expanded
across the landscape. Homes evolved into above-ground pueblos, some with
multiple stories. People began to make corrugated, Black-on-Red, and
polychrome pottery. Tools included manos and slab metates, petrified wood
and obsidian points and scrapers, and pottery that was both locally made
and trade items. Artifacts link park sites to Homol'ovi, Flagstaff, the
Hopi Mesas, Gallup, Zuni, and the White Mountains sites. Many petroglyphs
were made throughout the Little Colorado River Valley, including solar
After the drought, which extended into the early 14th Century, there was a
period of environmental change, the return of long winters and shorter
growing seasons. These conditions extended well into the 19th Century. By
1300, A.D. archeologists believe that the idea of Katsinam (sometimes
spelled Kachinas) became widespread, marked by images of Katsinam in
petroglyphs, pictographs, and kiva murals. Polychrome pottery became more
elaborate and Glaze-on-Red was added. Piki stones (for making piki bread)
became evident. Their tool kit included small triangular projectile
points. The population began to aggregate into larger communities, with
over a hundred rooms, kivas, and frequently a plaza, located along major
drainages or near springs. By the end of era, most of the Petrified
Forest area appears to have been depopulated, but, people still used the
region for a travel corridor and for resources. The
Anasazi period lasted
until about 1450.
the time that European explorers came to the area, these ancient villages
had been abandoned. Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the area in the
16th century, allegedly named it El Desierto Pintado, meaning "Painted
Desert". These first Spanish explorers did not settle the area; however,
as they were focused on finding routes between their
colonies along the Rio Grande River and the Pacific Coast. Within the
Petrified Forest National Park, Spanish inscriptions have been discovered from the
late 1800s, descendents of some of the earliest non-American Indian
settlers in the region.
Routes continued to be explored after the Southwest became part of U.S.
territories in the mid-1800s. U.S. Army Lieutenant Amiel Whipple, surveying for a
route along the 35th Parallel in 1853, passed down a broad sandy wash in the red
badlands of the Painted Desert. Impressed with the deposits of petrified
wood visible along the banks, Whipple named it Lithodendron ("stone tree")
Creek, the large wash that bisects the Wilderness Area of the park today.
The Whipple Expedition was the source of the first published account of
the petrified wood in what would become
Petrified Forest National Park.
After Whipple's expedition, an experienced explorer,
E. F. Beale was hired by
the U.S. Government as a civilian contractor to build a wagon road along
the 35th Parallel. Between 1857 and 1860, Beale made several trips from
his ranch at Fort Tejon,
California, building and improving the road. On
his first journey, Beale was in charge of a government experiment in
desert transport that included camels and their drivers. While Beale
became convinced of the camels' value, the government declared the
experiment a failure. The wagon road lives on, still visible in spots
across the Southwest, part of which, is on the National Register of
In the late
1800s, settlers and private stage companies followed this ancient
corridor. Homesteaders developed ranches that took advantage of the rich
grasslands that would forever after bear the mark of grazing. In 1884, the
Holbrook Times noted: ...The whole northern portion of the territory seems
to be undergoing a great change....Our plains are stocked with thousands
of cattle, horses and sheep.... Cattle would graze in the Petrified Forest
until the mid-20th century and ranches are still some of the park's best
Puerco Pueblo was inhabited by the
Ancestral Pueblo People in about 1200-1300 A.D.,
Kathy Weiser, 2015.
This image available for photo prints
1904 and 1905, conservations, John Muir explored the Petrified Forest and
the next year, on December 8, 1906, the Petrified Forest National Monument
was created by President Theodore Roosevelt.
of America, updated August, 2015.
- Download this article as a Print-Friendly, Ad Free PDF, with additional
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Forest-Painted Desert Slideshow:
All images available for photo prints
Petroglyphs at the Puerco Pueblo in the
Petrified Forest National Park, Dave Alexander, 2015.
This image available for photo prints
Arizona Route 66
Petrified Forest National Park
National Park Service
Navajo Trader, University of Arizona Press, 1991
Route 66 Encyclopedia, Voyageur Press, 2012
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