By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
November has been designated “National American Indian Heritage Month” in the United States, so we decided to recommend some sites to visit to help celebrate the occasion. Those who live in or are visiting the Midwest or South will notice that none of the mound-building American Indian cultures are represented in this month’s column. We decided that these groups deserve a column all their own. Most of the places mentioned in this column are quite busy during the summer; we prefer visiting in the spring and fall.
1. Aztec Ruins National Monument — Aztec, New Mexico
Designated as a World Heritage Site, this monument preserves structures and artifacts of Ancestral Pueblo people who lived there from the 1100s through the 1200s. Archaeologists have determined that the natives who built this community were influenced by those from the Chaco Canyon. Around the year 1200, people with ties to tribes from the Mesa Verde region occupied the site. A 1/4-mile self-guided trail runs through the West Ruin, the remains of the multistory pueblo. The visitor center features exhibits and a video. The monument is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.
2. Canyon de Chelly National Monument — Chinle, Arizona
At the base of sheer red cliffs and in canyon wall caves lie ruins of Indian villages built between the years 350 and 1300. Canyon de Chelly offers visitors the chance to learn about Southwestern Indian history from the earliest Basket Maker cultures to the Navajo Indians who still live and farm there. The park’s visitor center is open daily.
3. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument — Coolidge, Arizona
For more than 1,000 years, farmers inhabited much of present-day Arizona. When Europeans arrived, all they found were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and artifacts. Casa Grande, or “Big House,” is one of the largest and most mysterious structures ever built in North America. The monument, located halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, is open year-round except for Christmas day. While at the site, visitors can take a guided or self-guided walking tour of the ruins and view the museum exhibits in the visitor center.
4. Lava Beds National Monument — Tulelake, California
Volcanic activity here created a rugged landscape that provided a natural fortress for the Modoc Indians. During the Modoc War of 1872-1873, Modoc leader Captain Jack and his band of 53 fighting men and their families hid in the hostile territory for five months. This group had the advantage of knowing the tortured landscape; the United States Army did not. Allow plenty of time to tour caves, cones, and craters, and to visit the battlefields where the Modoc War was fought.
5. Hovenweep National Monument — Blanding, Utah
The monument protects five Pueblo-era villages spread over a 20-mile expanse of mesa tops and canyons along the Utah-Colorado border. At the monument, visitors can marvel at the multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. Hovenweep, open every day except Christmas, is noted for its solitude and undeveloped, natural character. At the Square Tower Group you will find the visitor center, a campground, and an interpretive trail.
6. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site — Stanton, North Dakota
This site preserves historic and archaeological remnants of the Northern Plains Indians. Scientists believe that the more than 50 uncovered archaeological sites may span 8,000 years. They were last occupied in the mid-1800s by the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes. After the smallpox epidemic of 1837, the tribes left the area and moved upstream to establish a new village. The park is located one hour from Bismarck and 1.5 hours from Minot. The visitor center features a furnished earth lodge, museum, and interpretive displays. The park is open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.
7. Chaco Culture National Historical Park — Nageezi, New Mexico
Between 850 and 1250, Chaco Canyon, with its distinctive architecture and engineering projects, served as a major urban center of ancestral Puebloan culture. Today canyon visitors can see the incredible “great houses” of the area and find out more about these early ancestors of the Pueblo and Hopi Indians. The visitors center includes a museum, a theater, and an astronomical observatory. A 9-mile paved loop road takes visitors to five of the major sites, including Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses, and Casa Rinconada, the largest known “great kiva” in the park. From there, self-guided hikes take you to see more ancient architecture. The park is open year-round, but the visitors center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.
8. Mesa Verde National Park — Cortez, Colorado
Summer wildfires threatened Mesa Verde, but with the fires out now, motorhomers can view the ruins that preserve more than 700 years of history. Between 600 and 1300, the Ancestral Pueblo people developed the knowledge and skill to build elaborate stone villages in alcoves tucked into canyon walls. In the late 1200s, the natives gradually left their homes and moved away. Be sure to visit Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and take a guided tour of the ruins. The park is closed only during extreme weather or fire conditions.
9. Montezuma Castle National Monument — Camp Verde, Arizona
This five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling is one of the best-preserved and most accessible cliff ruins in North America. The “high-rise apartment building” served as home for Sinagua Indians more than 600 years ago. When early settlers arrived, they assumed that such an imposing structure must have been associated with the Aztec emperor Montezuma; however, the castle had been abandoned for almost a century before Montezuma was born. The monument is open daily.
10. Petroglyph National Monument — Albuquerque, New Mexico
One of the more recent additions to the National Park system, this monument preserves American Indian and Hispanic petroglyphs in a 17-mile stretch along West Mesa, a volcanic escarpment on Albuquerque’s western horizon. Stories about the people who lived along the Rio Grande for the past 12,000 years come to life through the images carved on the shiny black rocks. Many of the images are recognizable as animals, people, brands, and crosses; other drawings are more complex, with their meanings understood only by the carver. The visitor center is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.
11. Pipestone National Monument — Pipestone, Minnesota
The story of this stone and the pipes made from it spans four centuries in the life and beliefs of the Plains Indians. Plains Indian culture has undergone radical change since the era of the free-ranging buffalo herds, yet the carved pipes are still appreciated as artwork, as well as for their ceremonial importance. Pipestone may still be quarried by anyone of Indian ancestry, according to Sioux tradition. Pipestone artifacts are displayed at the visitor center and the Upper Midwest Indian Cultural Center. Visitors also can enter an exhibit pipestone quarry. Closed Christmas and New Year’s days.
12. Tuzigoot National Monument — Clarksdale, Arizona
Here lie the remnants of one of the largest Sinagua pueblos, a two-story, 110-room structure built between 1100 and 1450. The Sinagua were farmers with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around the year 1400. The monument, which is open year-round except for Christmas day, is located 52 miles south of Flagstaff, and 90 miles north of Phoenix. It isn’t a huge site, but it’s one of our favorites, because it does an excellent job of interpreting Sinagua culture.
13. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site — Cheyenne, Oklahoma
This site includes the Southern Cheyenne village of Chief Black Kettle. This wasn’t the site of Custer’s last stand, but he did lead his cavalry unit in a surprise early-morning attack against the Cheyenne on November 27, 1868. At the time, the military and many civilians considered the strike essential to prevent more raids on frontier settlements. But many people today consider it a massacre, and they honor Chief Black Kettle as a leader who never ceased striving for peace, even though it cost him his life. The site and visitor center, which houses the Black Kettle Museum, are open year-round.