Ancestral Puebloan Cavate Dwellings

Outer Room at Turkey Tanks with two deep inner cavate rooms

Ancient dwellings of the Hopi ancestors included several types depending on the natural resources available. The dwelling types were cavates, cliff dwellings and Pueblos. Around 700-800 years ago, the ancients lived in cavates (“CAVE-eights”) excavated into welded volcanic rocks. I visited these dwelling sites around the San Francisco Peaks to understand the relationship of our culture to the spirits of fire. Geologic events like volcanic eruptions were witnessed by the ancient ones and the stories are recounted in Hopi oral traditions today. The USFS/NPS Partnership provides excellent interpretive hikes into these sites

Trailhead Old Caves Crater

The OLD CAVES CRATER is a U-shaped crater on which 70-80 cave dwellings can be seen from the top to the bottom on the south side of the crater. It is an easy 2.4 mile round trip hike on to the crater.

Topo Map Old Caves Crater

Old Caves Crater is distinguished from New Caves Crater by the way the cavates were dug by the dwellers. At Old Caves the dwellings were dug top down. At New Caves the dwelling were dug horizontally into the volcanic rock. Some of the cavates have three or more rooms. There is a line of sight to New Caves Crater from this site.

Outer Room Old Caves Crater with entrance from top
A second Inner room Old Caves Crater
Cavate Dwellings Map Old Caves Crater*

The TURKEY TANK cavates are east of Flagstaff  under the county highway. The canyon is very picturesque with oak trees, cat tails, black volcanic rock and water cisterns. It was monsoon season and the summer storms passed throughout the day. The cavate entrances are not easily seen unless you hike along the canyon walls.

Cavate Entrance Turkey Tanks

The cavates are larger than the Old Cave dwellings and there are deep, lower level rooms inside the main outer rooms. I could easily stand inside the outer room but did not dare try to venture into the inner rooms. Pink plaster, placed by hand was evident on the walls and floor. Black soot covered the ceilings of the cavate.

Pink plaster evident on wall

Other cavate sites include nearby Walnut Canyon and the Eldon Pueblo. The ancients survived a harsh life, dwelling in the volcanic rock for a period of time. It was very humbling to know that our ancestors survived so that the next generations of indigenous peoples of the Americas are still here. Usqwali!

For anthropological information see: *Pueblo Ruins Near Flagstaff Arizona, J. Walter Fewkes, American Anthropologist, Vol 2, No. 3, Jul-Sept 1900

Roving Rangers Interpretive Hikes August 2017 Flyer


Red Mountain Hoodos

Red Mountain Hoodos

“This cinder cone, estimated to be over a million years old, rises 1,000 feet above the plateau to 7,960 feet. As you hike a mile into the breached cone, you will go from Pinyon-Juniper to Ponderosa Pine vegetation. You will also notice a change in soil and rock features. Enjoy your visit to this unique geological formation.” Signage at the trailhead in the Coconino National Forest, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


The descriptions of this old, old place are deceiving as I found out on a quick hike into the cone on an early spring morning. The U-shaped cinder cone has an inner core of an ancient eruption that you enter but can quickly put you between a “rock and a hard place”.

Climb these steps into the inner core

Once you are in the inner core, there are many seemingly “foot trails” that you follow. This one goes to the right…….

Inviting but deceiving “trail”

and ends at a huge boulder that one must climb up and over. My short Hopi legs could not get a grip to hoist myself over. Two young females DID make it over and I saw them disappear into the crevasse.

I wandered around on the ground level. I sat and imagined what the ancient ones would have thought of this place. I could feel the energy of the rocks and the oldness of this sacred place.

The Sunset Crater erupted around 1050. It erupted more than once and there was the big one on Nuvatukaovi (San Francisco Peaks). It reminded me of a story my grandmother told us as children during a fall corn roast supper in Kykotsmovi.

Sitting inside the inner core

Aliksa i’. In an ancient village before time immemorial, twin boys (Pökunghoya)  were born to a woman. The mother abandoned her children. They wandered around the village as orphans, uncared for, starving and begging for food, shelter and water. A few compassionate families gave them food to eat. Finally, old Spider woman, Kokung wuti took pity on them and gave them shelter in her house. As they grew to be strong young men, they excelled at all skills, were industrious, and good hunters. They were very handsome. They became very important and necessary persons in the village.
As all children who are abandoned by their parents, they felt anger, resentment, insecurity and want acknowledgment by a parent at all times. So the twins felt this in their hearts. The twins decided to sponsor a katsina ceremony (tiikiveh). All the people of the village and other villages came to see the dance. The katsina spirit that came represented the fire, ash, storms and lava of the volcano to the west. The katsina spirit sang a song (Grandmother sang this song) and it told the story about the lives of the twins as they grew up in this society. It told of the hardship of their lives, and how society treated them.
Now the katsina’s song bewitched the people. They were sad. The uncompassionate people knew who they were and what they did to the twins. As the song progressed, the bad heart people on the roof tops saw dark, black clouds building up in the west. They were happy that the katsina song was bringing rain. They prayed hard.
The compassionate people also knew who they were. They were happy that the twins acknowledged their help. However, the people with the good hearts saw something different. They saw dark, black clouds. But it was not rain. It was fire. They knew that they had to escape. So the good-hearted people made preparations to leave the village and left immediately.
The song of the katsina spirit continued and the fire, ash, storm and heat came upon the people. The dark, black rain came closer and closer. The people were all burned. This is how the twins punished the people of an ancient village for the wrongs that were done to them.
Now this story could have been orally transmitted from any of the villages around either Nuvatukaovi, Sunset Crater or even Meteor Crater when it hit the earth. Someone saw the volcanic event and this story travelled to Hopi and is now a tuu wutsi.  Hisatsenom saw the geologic explosions and escaped.

Hoodos that I should not have climbed!

I heard nervous giggles of the two women high above me and wondered how they got so high. I decided to move on and saw an inviting “foot trail” with tiny burrs that caught my tennis shoes easily. I quickly climbed, and climbed. I thought I would climb out on the ridge somewhere. Unfortunately, I hit a deadend wall that I could not climb over.

I looked down. The hoodos rise up to 7,960 feet so I was pretty high. My shoes couldn’t support my weight on the tiny burrs going down. I contemplated how I got myself into this risky situation yet again as I do on my hikes! It was either slide down and break my arms or legs or head first to the bottom.

I finally laid full body over a thin layer of cinder and slowly zigzagged inch by inch to grooves and trees that slowed my descent. I made it down off the hoodos with jelly legs.   I did not see the two women again. I hope they made it down safely! I learned to respect this place the hard way.

As told by (C) MFredericks, Webmaster  Hopi story may not be reproduced without express written consent. Usqwali.

Hopi Footprints on the Americas

Creation of the Ancient Migration Paths of the Hisatsenom

On the twentieth day of the Hopi Baby Naming Ceremony, a newborn infant becomes one of the human species (homo sapiens or “wise man”). A ritual prayer is recited by the paternal godmother that sets out the life path for this perfect human being. Thus, we begin our life journey.

The Hopi people evolved throughout the centuries and forged our migration paths as laid out for us in the beginning time. We, the two-legged species, traveled with the four-legged animals with whom we could communicate. We learned how to weave, to make ropes, sandals, baskets, feather blankets and home shelters on the earth. We lived with the earth spirits deep in the land. We drank precious water poured by the six point cloud people.  We marked our footprints on the rocks as a message to others of our way finding.

Imprint of the ages

As the centuries passed we evolved from the hunter gatherer into agricultural societies and became sedentary. We cultivated the sacred corn, bean and squash. The earliest mother corn has been carbon dated on Hopi lands to 200 A.D. The “tuhisma” or talented hands begin to shape the clay into pottery. Beauty was created in our songs, ceremonies and lifeways. More travelers came and gathered at the Center of the Earth. They came from the South, West, East and the North of the Americas. These were the Hisatsenom, the “ancient ones”.

The rocks of the ages tell of these migrations.  You can understand if only you listen. We are still here.

Story & Photo Credits by MFredericks




A Rebirth of Hopi Voices


Mother Corn

U’yis muyaw, the planting moon marks the lunar cycle for the new Hopi planting season. The indigenous, drought resistant Mother Corn is reverently selected and cleaned by the women for planting by the Hopi males. A new beginning of an ancient life plan of the Americas begins anew.

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Usqwali!  Thank You. MFredericks, Webmaster