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On Walkabout At: Puerco Pueblo, Arizona

Basic Information

Narrative

After driving under I-40 from the Northern side of Petrified Forest National Park, my family and I stopped to check out the first site we saw on the South side of the park, the Puerco Pueblo.  The parking lot for the site is right along the side of the main road through the park and is well signed so it cannot be missed:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

From the parking lot there is a short half mile walk all on a paved trail that allows visitors to walk around the remains of an ancestral Pueblo village that is believed to have been inhabited from 1250-1380 AD.  Archaeologists have meticulously restored some of the foundations at the site so people can see the size of the rooms and buildings that these people lived in:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

The rooms by today’s standards are quite small but the early Americans were very short people with many of them less than five feet tall.  These smaller rooms were probably good living conditions for the time period:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

All along the walk through this archaeological site there was plenty of markers that explained the history and various facts about these early Americans that called this site home:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Though the nearby Rio Puerco River is dry most of the year, during the time of the Puebloans that would have lived here, it was actually a constant water source.  This allowed the villagers to grow various crops such as corn, beans, and squash for food near their village in what today seems like an inhospitable landscape:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Besides being a water source the river would have also been a natural transportation corridor through the desert for people to travel along to trade with other villages.  This transportation corridor also meant that enemy’s could follow it as well to raid the village.  That is why the Puerco Pueblo was designed to be a fortress as well as a home for the up to 200 people who lived here:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

It is believed that a series of droughts which are common in the Southwest slowly reduced the population over many decades as families sought villages with more reliable water sources to live at leaving Puerco Pueblo abandoned around 1380 AD.  This reminds me a lot of what happened to the Ancestral Puebloans nearly 200 years later at Bandelier National Monument when they had to abandon their homes as well due drought and move to pueblos along the Rio Grande River.  By the way I highly recommend that anyone visiting New Mexico visit Bandelier National Monument.  You can read more about my visit to the monument at the below link:

What I found most interesting about the Puerco Pueblo was all the rock art that could be seen on the rocks adjacent to the village:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Many of these symbols were easily recognizable as various wildlife that would have been in the area:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Other symbols looked like they could have been made by aliens:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Some of the other art featured elaborate patterns:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Other rock art appeared just to be people doodling:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

After having been to a few rock art sites in the Southwest I find it interesting how many of the symbols used are very similar among sites even when sites are from different centuries.  I tend to think that possibly the symbols were used for communication.  Back during the Ancestral Pueblo period there was no horses and people had to walk vast distances to trade.  The isolation between villages led to many different languages and dialects being used.  So I think traders that made the long treks would have had to deal with various different languages thus maybe drawing was the way they communicated instead?

Below are a couple of the best rock art sites I have seen in the Southwest:

Probably the coolest site at the Puerco Pueblo is the Summer Solstice Marker:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

This plaque explains how the Solstice Marker allowed the villagers to tell the changing of the seasons:

Picture from the Puerco Pueblo

Conclusion

I highly recommend that people spending a day visiting the Petrified Forest National Park take at least 30 minutes to walk around Puerco Pueblo.  I actually spent over an hour here reading all the markers and checking out all the rock art.  I find the Ancestral Puebloan history very fascinating, but even people without a deep interest in this period of American history can learn a lot about these Ancestral Puebloans by just spending 30 minutes walking around the site.  Who knows it may spark an interest in you to visit even more spectacular Pueblo sites such as Bandelier National Monument which is one of my favorite sites in the Southwest.

Next Posting: Petrified Forest National Park

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