Guess what, jeep tour company of Sedona, Arizona, you have permission to guide tours at Honanki, but I own it, your company does not.
I spend most of my wilderness time exploring archaeology on public lands. Public lands include United States National Forests, State Parks, Bureau of Land Management Lands, and National Parks. These lands are our collective natural and cultural property and, for the most part it is very easy to recreate in these spaces, even in archaeologically sensitive areas.
Most spaces on USFS land welcomes visitors with a sign that says:
Ancient ruins, archaeological resources, fossils, and historical remnants in the vicinity of this notice are fragile and irreplaceable. The Antiquities Act of 1906 and Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 protect them for the benefit of all Americans.
Enjoy but do not destroy your American heritage. Do not dig, remove, injure of destroy any historic or prehistoric objects, ruins, or sites. Violators subject to arrest, a maximum fine of $250,000, and or imprisonment
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
Then they leave you alone to explore as you please.
Not so at Honanki Cultural Heritage site which is a large cliff dwelling pueblo site with a vast array of pictographs. The site dates to fairly recent times, between 1150-1875 A.D. and was built by the “Sinagua”, ancestors of the Hopi. It would be a beautiful example of prehistoric pueblo culture except that USForest Service Red Rock Pass Program has bulldozed right down the middle of some of the households along the cliff to install a wide flat sidewalk and stanchion off the rooms from visitors. This part I understand. The village would quickly be turned to dust by all the tourists the concessionaire jeep-tour company trots through there.
I only hope that the Hopi Nation or one of the more recent cultural groups who occupied the site sees some of the profits from the Red Rock Pass Program or the jeep tour company, because the tour company has a very swift trade running through that place. It seems they are doing more exploiting than educating at the site, and they act like they own the place.
First, there is a gate between the parking area and a “toll booth” where a very cranky lady from a Sedona jeep tour company concessionaire begrudgingly lets you tour the property on foot without paying to take one of the concessionaire’s tours, but she sternly reprimands you not to listen to the guide giving the tours because the people in that group paid to hear the tour guide and you didn’t you filty animal. Next you are admonished to only be on the property between certain hours. Third, if you venture off the paved trail a guy that probably works part time at Safeway and part time as a tour guide tells you to get back on the trail and that you are breaking the law.
I visited the chained and enslaved Honanki Heritage Site very soon after spending a few days freely exploring much older, larger, and intact Sinagua cliff dwellings in Sierra Ancha, Arizona.
See these posts:
There’s also a really amazing cliff dwelling in Sycamore Canyon, very near to Honanki, which is totally unbothered by jeep tours and entitled concessionaires.
See this blog post: Sycamore Canyon Ruins
So when I wanted to go off trail at Honanki, on US Forest Service land, just like everywhere else I explore near Honanki, to look at some other pictographs that are off to the side, I was really irked to be yelled at by the Safeway employee that I wasn’t allowed to be there. I told him, “Of course I can be here. Its public land.” He said, “You can’t be there. That area is an archaeological site.” I wanted to ask him if he’d been dropped on his head as a baby. Instead I said, “THE WHOLE PLACE IS AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE!!!” What a dunce. Furthermore, this particular archaeological site has been damaged beyond belief with sidewalks and signage. There are places where one side of a pueblo complex is against the rock, another side is on the downhill side of the cliff, and a sidewalk runs right through the middle of the rooms of the pueblo! He said, “You’re going to get fined $250,000. I’m going to call the ranger!” Not true. The fine is given to those who damage the site, not those who look at it. I said, “That would be great. Please do call the ranger.” …so I can get on with what I want to be doing instead of having this inane argument with you.
I get it. He has no experience in the backcountry and couldn’t imagine a woman who knows what she’s doing around sensitive archaeology. He probably thought he was protecting those precious pictographs from getting pecked off the rock by some noob artifact hunter, but still…don’t tell me what to do, people, unless you’re sure you have a solid case because I’m good at arguing and knowing where the walls are.
This is why the backcountry is so great compared to outdoor museum sites. Freedom.
So what happened? My retort that the whole place was an archaeological site and that I wanted him to call the ranger basically gave him no more ammo and he shut up. But the thing was that he’d been so distracted telling lies to tourists that before he saw me I’d already been back there and seen what I wanted to see. So I didn’t really care to waste the rest of my afternoon dealing with that scrub simply on principle. I bailed.
I took myself back to the jeep to get a snack, but didn’t escape the enclosure before being scolded by the cranky concessionaire guard jeep-employee lady that it was after 3pm and I wasn’t allowed to be in there after 3pm. As she’s talking to me, two more jeep fulls of tourists were being carted in to tour the site. Apparently the 3pm deadline doesn’t apply to paying customers. And, you know what else? I didn’t see a single Native American employee of the tour company. Everyone there who claimed so much dominion over the place was white white white.
This is an actual quote from the Red Rock Pass Program brochure:
Public lands are one of America’s great treasures. Nearly one-third of the country belongs to its citizens—a national inheritance unrivaled in the world. Public lands are celebrated for their recreation and spiritual values, for economic benefits, for what they preserve of pristine America, and for their role as a vast recreational playground and classroom for all Americans and foreign visitors.
Yeah, but have you ever tried to recreate on federal property during a U.S. government budget shutdown? They literally close the land and won’t let you on it. They chain entrances, post signs, and even give out tickets to “trespassers”. Public land, eh?
So, if you want to pay a fortune for a totally programmed experience of some spectacular southwestern pictographs, and you want a white bread dough boy to make up a meaning for every single image on the panel, go on out and take a jeep tour to Honanki and get dumber in less time than ever before. Or take yourself out there with your National Parks Pass or Red Rock Pass, but make sure to visit during the prescribed hours for second-class citizens.
Or, just watch my video slideshow below of the beautiful images painted by the Sinagua at Honanki and with your free time do something to help your local Native American tribe recover some of the stolen land or artifacts or bodies that daily are being stolen by the U.S. Government then sold to tourists as attractions or to Americans as energy from wind farms.