We take the Winslow exit and drive south on highway 87 & 99. We head east on Territorial Road. If you have an aversion to dirt and dusty roads, stop and turn around right here!

Our destination is a place called Rock Art Ranch. Earlier in the day I picked up the phone and asked if we could come and visit. The ranch is far off the road, so a personal invite is almost required by the owner Brantly Baird. Mention is made that if it is raining, turn around because the roads are impassable for most tourist vehicles. We travel in a very small R.V. & pull a ten foot trailer. We consider ourselves somewhat nimble in the R.V. World. We have crossed little streams and driven up steep roadways at 10,000 +ft. and we have a small turning radius and can make u-turns in any intersection. This happens OFTEN when we are exploring.

My wife and I are avid hikers/walkers/explorers. When we are on the road we have a penchant to seek out natural hot springs and native petroglyphs. France might have the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre but Arizona has a best kept secret…an outdoor art exhibit called Rock Art Ranch.

We travel 12 miles on gravel, then another 2 miles on dirt, then another 3 miles down dusty roads to our destination. We are met by Brantly and his son, they have unsuccessfully been trying to round up buffalo during the afternoon. The ranch is large enough that they never found them. They assured me that they are out there somewhere ….and then lamented, if they actually ran off, it would be a blessing. Brantly squints at me and says “our nearest neighbor is 17 miles away….and sometimes thats to close”

The dust settles and we peruse the ranch and the rather rocky landscape. At his homestead there are dozens of gigantic old tree trunks collected from close proximity to the nearby Petrified National Forest. As we break the ice I extend my hand and I comment that “it looks like you’ve had a problem growing trees around here?” He has a warm smile and says “they died about 80 million years ago and I haven’t been able to grow much since.”, “We’ve got a live tree over by the barn that is ten feet tall” Brantly says with dry wit.

Brantly hands us a key and tells us we can head back down some dusty roads that trail off in the distance. The key opens a locked gate & entrance to the canyon and the walls that are the palette of ancient rock art. We are advised to lock all gates and since there are not amenities like electricity, running water and cell phone coverage……you are on your own. Brantlys son knows we have spend the past 4 weeks amongst thousands of tourists at various art festivals. He smiles and says “it might be a bit quieter than you’re used to” , another understatement.

It is mid to late afternoon and we take off quickly as not to miss the long shadows of the afternoon and evening. We arrive in a whirl of dust and drive into the corral, we shut all the gates around us. This allows us protection from the buffalo or the cattle that might want to eat the windshield wipers off of our vehicle during the time we spent at this remote location.

No time is spent preparing our site. We quickly hike down to explore the canyon and to find the artwork. With each downward step into the canyon we descend into what seems like another biome. The upper desert plains are swept by the Sonoran winds that stir the exposed sandstone into the air. The canyon offers relief from wind, intense sunlight, intense cold and has a life giving stream that flows off the very, very distance mountain toward Flagstaff.

Over the eon’s the light sandstone walls have developed a black patina that is a perfect chalkboard. For thousands of years native and not so native people have been using art and images to define their territory. Today our society uses spray paint on railroad cars. The Anasazi did not have the luxury of spray paint and had to resort to pecking the surface of the canyon with a sharp rock.

As we travel to various petroglyph sights throughout the South West, we remain curious and open to what they might signify and what they might be trying to relay to the viewer.

Rock Art Ranch is known for having exceptional Pre-Columbian petroglyphs including one called the “birthing mother” It is a rare petrographic depiction of the birthing event.

With each trip to various petroglyph sites we evaluate what we have seen and try to ascertain their meanings and relationships to the surroundings. Enclosed find a photograph that depicts what seems to be a complete family unite.

A family unit living in harmony, the larger persons are shown holding hands. There is much to ponder in the larger picture. Just two feet in the distance is another adult like figure. He is followed by a succession of dots. Dot, dot, dot, dot, He is either leading the way and taking the entire family unit to someplace else, or perhaps he has wandered from the family, and they acknowledge his absence by this image. It seems hard to determine. He has left an effect on his family unit and they pay homage to his distance by this portrayal.

The Anasazi surroundings are as hospitable as any place you might find in the south west. They have been provided with a tolerable climate, suitable water supply in an arid desert. Wildlife abounds throughout the canyon lands and the surrounding desert and provides a plentiful food source. The beaver trim the red willow along the stream, dam building and providing for the fish, turtles and frogs. In the quiet of late afternoon and early morning it provided us with an insight into their near perfect neighborhood.

For many years the Anasazi were thought to be a near perfect society, living in harmony with their surroundings as seen in this beautiful canyon. Recently, scientific research has shown that their society met with an untimely end. Their Anasazi-Chaco Canyon relatives were victims of anthropophagy, was it outsiders? Insiders or lack or resource, it is hard to know. Anthropophagy is commonly known as cannibalism.

This place was a valued and treasured resource thousands of years ago. It remains the same today.

Bill Keitel

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