THROUGH A KEYHOLE IN TIME
The shot reverberates on the afternoon air and startles a couple of crows into flight. Dennis Lockhart, luxuriantly bearded Parks Ranger and guide, lowers his antique Springfield rifle and turns to face us.
We are a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, Arizona, at Fort Verde, a military enclave (now a State Historic Park) established by General Crook in 1871, with the idea of protecting early farming communities from hostile Apache, Hopi and Navajo Indians.
I press my camera's shutter-button in lieu of a trigger, focusing on four heritage military officers' houses standing in a row, seemingly at attention as they face the parade ground. Contrary to the stereotypical image of functional barrack-type quarters, these adobe white-plastered bungalows are spacious, airy and well-furnished homes.
Lockhart gestures sweepingly across the parade ground. "Can't you picture the scene?" He says. "A scout riding breathlessly into the stockade to announce that a group of Indians are fast approaching the Fort." He swivels and points towards the far end of the grounds. "And from there," he indicates a scrub-covered mesa across the Verde river, "appears a crowd of whooping, tomahawk-waving Apaches on horseback. Our US cavalry heroes raise their Winchester rifles and the Indians all bite the dust!"
Lockhart smiles. "Pure Hollywood of course!" In actual fact, it was the Yavapai Indians, rather than the Apaches who spelt trouble. Hollywood used Winchesters, the army used Springfields, and furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever that Indians ever attacked any US military establishment in Arizona.
That isn't to say that the Indians weren't aggressive. Having inherited one of the most spectacular desert wildernesses in North America, they were understandably reluctant to surrender their lands without a fight.
Over dinner I meet the descendents of those Apache and Yavapai Indians whose homeland this was, and still is. I listen to their side of history—poignant tales of injustices, dispossession, and the struggle to regain their tribal dignity. For all that, their focus is pride in their sovereign Indian Nation status, their role in the Camp Verde community today, and their goals for the future.
Neon lights shine into my hotel bedroom from the nearby Cliff Castle Casino, owned and operated by the Yavapai-Apache Nation. So, where the white man's avarice once robbed a native people of their birthright—today, his greed for instant cash enriches the tribe's coffers and its economic and cultural rejuvenation. Neat irony!
The next day, involves a deeper journey into the past. Six hundred years, in fact. Tucked into a craggy limestone cliff, seventy feet above the pathway where I stand, are the ochre colored walls of a five-story dwelling comprising a catacomb of living quarters. Nicknamed Montezuma's Castle, it is neither a castle nor does the Aztec ruler Montezuma have anything to do with it. These "high-rise" community apartments were home to the Sinagua Indians who, for reasons unknown, abandoned the site about a century before Montezuma was born.
Looking at adjacent Beaver Creek, it is easy to imagine another sunny morning just like this one, many centuries ago, when a Sinagua farmer would have harvested his corn, beans and squash on its banks, while his wife picked saltbush to enliven their midday meal of soup or stew. I can see again the women exchanging banter as they weave mesquite bark and yucca fibres into baskets, or hear their songs and shouts of jubilation at some communal festive gathering.
A short drive north of Flagstaff takes us to the Wupatki National Monument–an impressive red sandstone conglomerate of free-standing masonry structures and field houses, spilling across the rocky landscape. Some of them date back to prehistoric times when nomadic hunters and gatherers roamed the desert. Then from 500 A.D. until around 1065 or so, this pueblo with its multi-storied honeycomb of rooms, was home to the Sinagua, and after them, the Navajo and Hopi Indians.
I am reminded of Arizona's Mexican heritage as we pass by Spanish-style white-washed adobe houses with arched doorways; by Latino rhythms wafting out of open-air cantinas (where admittedly, the food is pop-culture Tex-Mex, and the tequila goes down easy!), and I overhear words like "mesa", "saguaro" and "pueblo" none of which are in everyday use in Canada.
Language is, of course, no barrier when it comes to exploring the legacy of those who once toiled, rejoiced, lived and died in this sun-drenched landscape, its forested ravines and its copper-coloured canyons. I have been privileged to share, however briefly, Arizona's Hispanic and Indian heritage, glimpsed through a keyhole in time.
IF YOU GO:
Arizona Outback Adventures, a company that prides itself on providing private and/or customized trips through Arizona, is based in Scottsdale. View their website at: http://aoa-adventures.com/ or (toll free): 1-866-455-1601.
Best Time To Visit:
April to September
Northern and Central Arizona has temperate summers, and chilly winters with snow at higher elevations. Average maximum temperatures from April to September range from the high 70s to the low 80s which makes for comfortable sightseeing. Rainfall is minimal.
Fort Verde State Historic Park
Cliff Castle Casino (Camp Verde)
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Wupatki National Monument,
Headquarters, Flagstaff Area National Monuments
PHOTOS: by Margaret Deefholts
1. Dennis Lockhart, Camp Verde
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