Narrow ledges served as both pathways and playgrounds for the Sinagua people during their 100 year stay in Walnut Canyon. Walking to the neighbors on a starless night would have been quite an adventure as would have been managing a tottering toddler, but their homes, built into the recesses of Walnut Canyon’s cliffs, provided both protection (from the elements, wildlife and enemies) as well as access to essential food and water. From their cave homes, the Sinaguas could monitor and prepare for approaching strangers. Yet directly above them was the flatter land of the canyon rim where they could grow beans, squash and drought-resistant corn and hunt deer. Six hundred feet below, Walnut Creek provided precious water for part of the year. Good water conservation and storage, supplemented by snow melt in the winter allowed the Sinaguas to live in relative comfort in the semi-arid climate.
The cramped cliff residences brought to mind primitive arena style sky-boxes -minus the plush seating and catered meals. Built by the Sinagua women from limestone rocks and gold clay, the walled cave homes were finished with a clay plaster. Situated to insulate, shelter and shade, the rooms had differing purposes. The larger rooms were most likely housing, and the many smaller rooms would have been used for storage. Children probably didn’t need much prompting to “go outside and play” with such cramped living quarters.
Within 100 years of their arrival, the Sinaguas moved on, eventually integrating, it is thought, into the Hopi tribe. Why they left is addressed by theories ranging from the ecological to the religious. What they left behind is more tangible: it is essentially a cliff side memorial to the men, women and children who once made Walnut Canyon their home.
Updated from May 19, 2010.