art · Travels

Visiting the Palatki Cultural Center

The Palatki Cultural Center is awesome! Les and I are interested in ancient ruins as well as artwork from any period of time. This place is rife with both and is located smack-dab in the middle of some of the most amazing red-rock scenery. It gets a HUGE thumbs up from us. OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me tell you about our day at the site. (grin)

A gorgeous meadow on the walk from the parking lot to the Cultural visitor’s center where you have to check in.

The very first thing that we learned upon entering the visitor’s center is that we were supposed to call ahead to make reservations. Oooops! After a long, bumpy drive down a dirt road, we could have easily been turned away from the ruins. The reason is that they don’t allow more than 10 people on any given tour. The ledge in front of the dwellings is fairly narrow and really would not comfortably and safely accommodate more than ten. Also, the site can be closed for renovation, rock falls and rain. At times, the walk to the cliff dwelling is closed, so you can only view them from a distance below the cliffs.

That would have been a bummer to be kicked out. So call ahead if you plan on going. We were lucky. On Sunday they were turning people away at the parking lot. On Monday we got to go in with no problem. You do have to get a parking pass, but the tours and site entrance are free. There are less and less free sites these days so that was a pleasant surprise.

Looking up through the trees on the trail to the cliff dwellings.

Les and I spent the better part of a perfect day hiking and taking a ton of pictures of the area. The day was a little overcast, so it was the perfect temperature for me. There was enough shade for comfort and enough sun for pictures. On a perfect plus note, it has been raining a lot this year so the varied wildflowers were in fabulous bloom. Can I say that it was just beautiful over and over?

Located outside of Sedona Arizona, Palatki and its sister site, Honanki, were the largest cliff dwellings of the Red Rock Country between AD 1150 – 1350. The sites were first described by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes, famous turn-of-the century archaeologist from the Smithsonian Institution, who gave them the Hopi names of Honanki (Badger House) and Palatki (Red House). The Hopi, however, have no specific names for these sites.

There are three trails at Palatki Heritage Site, one trail that takes you up to the Sinagua cliff dwellings, one that takes you to a view of the dwellings and a third that goes to the alcoves that shelter the painted and etched symbols from every native culture to ever occupy the Verde Valley. These trails, each ¼ mile one way making the round trip distance one and one half mile, are fairly easy but they are not accessible to wheel-chairs.

From the visitor’s center, you get your first guide, and walk a moderately short hike up to the cliff dwellings. The ranger at the visitor’s center said that the first hike up to the cliff dwellings was about half a mile, but it did not seem that long to me.

There are a few steps along the way, some of them a little steep. The center offers hiking sticks for you to borrow if you like. The ranger at the station handed this old lady (me) a stick automatically. I probably should have been insulted, LOL. Well, it turns out that I LOVED mine and never knew that I wanted one until I used it on the trail. It really did help with the steps and my arthritic knee. My purchase as soon as we got back to Sedona was a hiking stick with which I will never again hike without.

Hike up to the dwelling with my hand carved walking stick courtesy of the visitor’s center. It came in handy while trying to step down some of the higher rocks.

After you spend some time at the dwellings, you continue your hike on up to the grotto where you will be handed off to another guide. The grotto is a huge open cave type of area where the ancient art is. I have read reviews from people saying that there were not as many pictoglyphs (a picture/symbol painted on the rock) and petroglyphs (pictures and symbols incised into the rock) as they expected. LMAO! There were a ton of them once you really started looking.

Imagine how many years this rock art has been faced with harsh sun, snow, wind and rain. I was actually amazed by how many images were still in great condition and clearly visible under the circumstances. Our VERY knowledgeable guide was adept at pointing out layers upon layers of ancient artwork, separating them for my puny little mind to see.

The day was light as far as visitors go, so Les and I had the tour guides to ourselves. We got to take our time with each guide and ask as many questions as we wanted. The people working there are volunteers who, each and every one of them, were happy to answer every question as well as provide a wealth of information and stories along the trail.

A part of the grotto was closed off for the bats that migrate there every spring. When we craned our necks around the rocks, we could see into a small entrance to the bat cave, but we could not walk past a roped off area at the entrance.

The Palatki center was a wonderful experience. We were lucky because this year has brought a lot of rain to Norther Arizona. The spring trees were practically glowing with their neon green colored leaves. The varied wild flowers were blooming in profusion. It was magical.

Les looking at art. You can see that the drawings were roped off. You could not touch them, of course, but we were right up next to them which is starting to get rare out here.

On our drive home, the skies opened up and the rain let loose. Even so, it was still a beautiful drive home.

Below is some practical information if you plan on visiting the site. I hope that you will. It was way worth it.

Currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service under the Red Rock Pass Program, the site is open to the general public for visits seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). A small visitor center and bookstore, run by the Arizona Natural History Association, is located a short distance from the parking lot.

Time Period Represented
AD 1150 – 1350

Hours Open
Open 7 days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m
Seasons Open
Open year-round

Visitor Fees
Red Rock Pass or America the Beautiful Pass required on all vehicles parked at our cultural sites. This pass can be purchased the Palatki Visitors Center.

Visitor Restrictions or Regulations
The area next to the cliff dwelling is limited to ten visitors at a time. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Before you visit, please call for reservations at (928) 282-3854 and read our Archaeological Site Etiquette Guide.

ADA Accessibility Notes
The trails are short and fairly easy, but they are not accessible to most wheelchairs.

Pet Friendly Notes
Pets are not allowed beyond the parking area at this heritage site.

4 thoughts on “Visiting the Palatki Cultural Center

  1. Great read. I really enjoyed the description of the pictures. Great pictures by the way and totally captured the trips experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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