To my Fellow Hikers, Wilderness and Ancient Cultural Defenders aka Nature Lovers – this should be just about everyone, shouldn’t it? It is also addressing those responsible in Sedona for the exploitation of cultural sites including rock art sites. I have to admit, I am not sure who holds the reins of power for this in Sedona. As a matter of convenience, I address this to the Sedona Town Council so that they can be made aware of the problem.
For about 30 years now, we have been lucky enough to be able to visit the beautiful area around Sedona, in central Arizona. Despite the inevitable assault on this relatively small area by millions of tourists from nearby Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles and just about everywhere else in the Southwest, there is still much beauty to be found among the red rock canyons, flowing blue creeks and bright green mesquite forests. Decades ago, the commercial highlight to me, was Gordon Wheeler’s Indian Trading Post that had a few hundred thousand treasures collected from Native American cultures and the surrounding desert they lived in. Apart from Gordon’s there were a few good restaurants such as Judi’s, some authentically hospitable inns such as Sky Ranch Lodge [both are still around] and a plethora of “tourist kitsch-like” stores full of junk. Today, there seems to be an increase in the affluent atmosphere of the commercial array of businesses offering their services to visitors and many new residents. With the pressure on the land to provide for nearly out of control population growth, how could we expect anything different? If this were the only assault on Sedona’s magnificent ancient cultural resources, Sedona could have implemented protective programs such as stewardship and other site management structure such as that proposed by Ben Swadley in American Indian Rock Art 35:219-235  in an article titled – Actively Managing Rock Art Sites. Such systems are in operation in many other areas of concentrated ancient cultures.
In my opinion it is not the occasional vandal that is the primary enemy of Sedona’s cultural resources, it is the facet of government responsible for managing these resources in the Sedona area. Below is a slide show consisting of a visit last week to two sites close to Sedona’s official hiking routes. They are in good condition because they are nearly impossible to reach on foot and therefore cannot be fully exploited by the destructive conditions set in place by Sedona’s cultural management. Before rewarding yourself with a look at these two splendid rock art sites, both associated with Sinaguan habitation ruins, I want to share some of my personal experiences.
Nowhere else in the Southwest that I am aware of, has the organized exploitation of cultural resources such as Rock Art and Ruins been as developed by relentless and repeated organized touring groups for the purposes of profit. On several different occasions over the past 30 years while visiting various sites that are extraordinarily high on canyon walls, we have been accosted by commercial helicopters taking tourists to see up close these “unreachable and hidden” ruins. While their occupants blissfully shoot photo after photo, people that climbed to these ruins along with the ruins and the rock art are all subject to the sand blasting of “eye to eye” rotor wash from the hovering helicopters. This sandblasting effect is repeated with regularity as these sites are visited, it appears, quite frequently. When I have tried to spend even an hour at such sites in at least three very well known canyons, we have been subject to repeated visits. The fragile pictographs were never designed to hold up under such stress and repeated destruction.
Several years ago after being subjected to 3 helicopter visits while on the Mushroom Rock Trail that had remarkable cultural resources, I wrote to the Sedona City Council. While I never received a direct response, shortly thereafter, the Mushroom Rock Trail was closed and deleted from the only existing hiking guide while the helicopter visits were allowed to continue their destruction of both the ruins and pictographs. In my personal life experience, this is one of the most egregious choices of cultural genocide of the spiritual resources of the Native Americans for profit. In this case, the Native American heritage destruction is occurring less than one mile from Enchantment Resort in Boyton Canyon.
If I did not make it clear, one week ago, high on a ledge in Long Canyon, which is one canyon east of Boyton canyon and near the golf course, myself and two young women were subjected to two helicopter visits within 20 minutes. The three of us had to try and keep our camera’s covered, eyes and ears protected and try not to be blown off the ledge we were standing on while the helicopter just hovered there with the sand blasting away like a sand storm. Obviously nothing has changed. The Sedona governing bodies still hypocritically place their economy ahead of the Native American cultural resources they insist they are protecting.
If not by air, then by land. One of the most widespread “jokes” about Sedona throughout the hiking and wilderness advocacy communities and the archaeologic professionals of the Southwest are the “Pink Jeep” platoons that endlessly traverse and invade the archaeologic sites of the area. Whomever has the money to pay for a tour can visit numerous unprotected archaeologic sites as part of a tour and then return to the site on their own. One of the protective elements of rock art and ruins is that they are difficult to find. Once their location is made public to a large group of people, that protection is gone. While such a prospective may appear elitist, the process of becoming involved in stewardship and management of rock art sites and then learning specific site locations, is a system that has worked well under real world conditions. It balances the desire of an individual to see rock art with service within the rock art community. Not only does the person get to see more rock art, they understand more of what they see. They also feel compelled to protect and educate others about rock art.
On this same trip of one week ago, while returning from another rock art site, I passed near the poorly managed Palatki, where the rock art has been largely locked up out of site of the public despite organized, chaperoned and paid-for tours. Not far from the inexplicable Palatki situation is another rock art panel that was, until recently, protected and on private land. As I drove by, there were two pink jeep vehicles parked a few yards from this panel disgorging probably 15 or so people who were meandering all over the land that led up to the site. The site, by virtue of it’s past protection is in pristine condition. How long it will last now as it functions as a means to provide revenue to the 100 or so jeep tour vehicles in Sedona?
So let us revisit the Palatki site for a moment. Last year I wanted to show my wife the splendid rock art that exists there. The site is now locked and you can only visit as part of a guided tour and are not allowed to visit the site on your own. I can live with that. What is amazing in context of what I have related above, is that they have locked away nearly all of the rock art from any public display even though the site is now fenced and highly guarded. The guides now show you one watery alcove of faded rock art that is nearly invisible and consists of less than 10 rock art elements of any regard, while 100s of pictographs are locked behind a fence only a few feet away. Whatever the explanation could possibly be for this, I cannot imagine. Here is a site that could inspire and educate people under careful management, yet it is withheld from the public.
Returning to the Long Canyon alcove of one week ago, when the second helicopter pulled away from the ruin and the pictographs, I expressed my concern to the two young women about the effects of the recurrent sandblasting of the rock art. Honestly, I had assumed full hearted agreement with my viewpoint. Surprisingly, they seemed very concerned, even disappointed, that I would feel that way. They told me that one of them worked for the one of the jeep tour companies and another worked for a motel. They said they owed their jobs to enterprises like the helicopters and the jeeps. From what I have seen, they have the support of the Sedona government.
Ostensibly, the Sedona government supports destruction of the ancient, spiritual and irreplaceable cultural resources for short-term monetary gain. Even in today’s society where timeless treasures that are hundreds or thousands of years old may not get all the respect or care they deserve, this outright destruction perpetrated by the Sedona governmental agencies entrusted with their care is remarkable in it’s disregard. Certainly, their must be someone or some oversight that is more interested or impassioned with their cultural resource survival?
I hope you are impressed with the rock art you see below taken from two sites close to central Sedona. I would really appreciate it if each reader would take the time and make the effort to contact the Sedona Town Council regarding these issues and express your dissatisfaction. The Sedona Town Council has a “Citizen Engagement Plan” that will let you express your viewpoint on this matter at: