Native American Ruins in Long Canyon (Sedona, AZ)

When people think of Sedona they think of the many famous red rock formations that dot the landscape, others are intrigued with the idea of finding spiritual and healing vortexes. Despite being a popular tourism destination, the city has managed to remain small, with a population of just over 10,000 as of the 2010 census. Part of that tiny population may have to do with the average home costing nearly $400,000, roughly double the average nationwide cost. I’m sure that those that live there don’t mind the absorbent cost of living, as it manages to keep the “riff-raff” out, and a place where tourist drop their dollars and leave after a few days.

Bashing aside, Sedona is a wonderful place that does offer visitors plenty of opportunity for hiking, and enjoying the outdoors.  There is however a hidden side to Sedona, one that most locals won’t talk about, that being the Native American ruins that are hidden in the canyons.

The first people to live in Sedona were the Paleo-Indians, between 11,500 and 9000 B.C.. The Paleo-Indians were big game hunters, and are considered to be the first people to live in North America, having crossed the Bering Strait from Eurasia into North America over a land and ice bridge. These people lived in Sedona until around 300 A.D.

 

Long Canyon Trail

Long Canyon Trail

 

View from along the trail.

View from along the trail.

 

After the Paleo-Indians left the region, the Sinagua people arrived three hundred years later (around 600 A.D.). The Sinagua built a majority of the cliff dwellings in the region, including, Montezuma Castle, Honanki, Palatki and Tuzigoot (not really a cliff dwelling). They are known for their pottery, masonry work, and basketry. They stayed in the region until about 1400 A.D., after which it is believed that they relocated to Hopi and Zuni villages in both Arizona and New Mexico.

The Yavapai arrived around 1300 A.D., while the Sinagua were still inhabiting the region. The Apache arrived around 1450 A.D., and intermingled with the Yavapai. Both tribes remaining in the region until they were forcefully removed to the San Carlos Indian Reservation in 1876. Roughly 1,500 tribal members were marched 180 miles in the middle of winter, many died making the journey, those that survived were interned for 25 years.

 

The forest thickens.

The forest thickens.

 

Beautiful cliffs, and alcoves as seen from the trail.

Beautiful cliffs, and alcoves as seen from the trail.

 

It sounds a little shocking that this region has had a Native American presence for up to 13,500 years, considering that the first white man to settle in the area didn’t do so until 141 years ago (1876). With a presence that spans such a vast timeline, one has to wonder why there isn’t more evidence of these people than just Montezuma Castle, Honanki, Palatki and Tuzigoot.

This is where the hidden side of Sedona comes in, the part that the Forest Service doesn’t want you to know about, and the locals won’t tell you about. The only way to find them is to get off of your ass and go hike a canyon, and look for them, just don’t expect to find them right along the main trails that have been cut through the desert. You have to dig a little deeper, follow the not so well-worn path, maybe trip and scrape a knee, or get impaled by a yucca.

I had heard from a reliable source that Long Canyon was a good place to start my search in Sedona, but no details were given as to what I might find or where. It was just simply stated that the canyon is sacred.

 

It pays to wander off trail. The first view of the Long Canyon dwellings.

It pays to wander off trail. The first view of the Long Canyon dwellings.

 

Old walls.

Old walls.

 

Sign of an ancient kitchen.

Sign of an ancient kitchen.

 

Knife or blade sharpening.

Knife or blade sharpening.

 

The trail through Long Canyon is 7 miles round-trip, and is well maintained throughout. The trail begins at a parking area off of Long Canyon Road. The first mile or so proves to be a bit mundane as you pass through a juniper forest and scrub brush, along with a pesky golf course that comes into view regularly, killing any sort of wilderness vibe.  After a mile or so the trail enters deeper into a forest, and the red rock cliffs come closer into view.

I found myself hyper-focused on the cliffs surrounding the canyon. A few times I tried to break trail to venture closer to the cliffs, but regularly found that any sort of route that I managed to create became choked out by high, and/or prickly brush.

I was about three miles in when I found a faint trail venturing off of the well-worn trail, leading toward the cliffs that I so eagerly wanted to reach. It was only a matter of minutes before I was standing in front of the ruins of a crumbling cliff dwelling. Two walls about three-foot tall closed off a cave that contained heavy smoke damage from ancient fires. Inside were two well-worn  metates, used to grind nuts, berries, corn, and other sources of food. Outside I found a boulder containing grooves from knife sharpening. It is very probable that I had found an ancient kitchen.

 

Large alcove containing additional ruins.

Large alcove containing additional ruins.

 

The walls of these ruins have largely fallen over.

The walls of these ruins have largely fallen over.

 

Little yellow pictograph guy.

Little yellow pictograph guy.

 

Following the cliff side I entered a large alcove, finding the walls of at least two additional dwellings. Not much remained of the walls, now only a couple of stones high, but still held together by the mud that has held them in place for several hundred years.

Nearby I found a singular yellow pictographs of a man painted upon the wall. The design is small, only about 6 inches tall. Who was this man, and what was his significance? Did he live here? Was he a higher deity? Whatever the case, he is still watching over Long Canyon, and the ruins left by the old.

These ruins are not the only ruins left in Long Canyon, but rather just a small taste of what can be found when you look just a little beyond the beaten path. Sedona holds many secrets, it is up to you to uncover them.

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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