Before a recent trip to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, I had learned of this small petroglyph site in the Kaibab National Forest, outside of Williams, AZ. A short hike, and a couple of panels of petroglyphs sounded like a nice break from the monotony of being behind the wheel on a long 8 hour drive. Not being one that is overly familiar with the lay of the land in these parts, I wasn’t sure how difficult the site would be to locate; but I was pleasantly surprised to find a marked trailhead and an adjacent parking area directly along Old Route 66 (Wagon Wheel Rd.).
The short well maintained one-mile trail leads through a forest of Ponderosa Pine and Quaking Aspen Trees, passes along walls of limestone boulders; before arriving at a small scenic box canyon. The box canyon is your destination, a sign-in book, and an interpretive sign is posted outside. The canyon walls are made of dark colored volcanic rock, known as basalt.
Because of the sink feature, this has been a reliable source of water for wildlife and early peoples for many years. One of the other key features here (no pun intended) is the keyhole shape of the canyon. Evidence carved in stone at the site shows how Keyhole Sink was likely used by the Native inhabitants to trap deer and other unsuspecting animals, and slaughter them.
Keyhole Sink along with a large portion of Northwestern Arizona was inhabited by the Cohonina Indians between 500 A.D. – 1200 A.D., they lived alongside the Anasazi. The Cohonina people are most known for the significant amount of pottery that they produced.
The Cohonina left two distinctive panels of petroglyphs at Keyhole Sink. The most intriguing being the panel that I already made mention of, a keyhole shape with several animals appearing to have been corralled inside. The other panel a bit more chaotic; containing both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic motifs. My personal favorite design, a bear foot print; probably because I wander the desert and have never seen a bear print petroglyph before.
Research performed by the Anthropology Department at the Northern Arizona University, shows that the Cohonina underwent three periods of construction. Between 700-900, their homes consisted of “deep timber-lined pit houses with rooftop entry and ventilator shafts.” Often these structures differed in material depending on the season. Between 900 and 1100, large walls of stone surrounded Cohonina forts, and masonry has been found in housing dated from this period. Between 1100 and 1250, they used masonry and San Francisco Mountain Gray Ware stone, though production of this stopped after 1275. In the forest surrounding Keyhole Sink, there are ruins of a pithouse, suggesting habitation of this area during their earliest years. I didn’t search out the pithouse ruins due to lack of time.
Keyhole Sink has been a public rock art site for many years, Kaibab NF has used it as an interpretive site to educate the general public about the people who once lived on this land. Sadly this has been abused in the past, and in August of 2010 a vandal spray painted, “ACE” directly on top of one of the petroglyph panels. The Forest Service worked to remove the graffiti to the best of their ability without damaging the petroglyphs. Unfortunately some damage is evident when looking at before and after photographs. This heinous act of disrespect prompted the closure of a dirt road that lead directly to the site, but the creation of the hiking trail that is now used.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Williams, take I-40 east to the Pitman Valley exit #171. Turn left and cross over the Interstate. Proceed east (right) on Historic Route 66 for about 2 miles to the Oak Hill Snowplay Area. The trail begins across Rt. 66, on the north side of the road. Please park in the lot provided. From Flagstaff, take the Parks exit #178. Turn right (north) and then turn left (west) onto Historic Route 66. Drive west for about 4 miles to the trailhead.