Friday, January 16, 2009


On a ten acre parcel of creosote flats now "owned" by the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Division, shards of soda bottles, skeets and ceramic pots are scattered across the desert. The site is less than a mile's easy walk from my house and is sandwiched between a grocery store, a high school, and our sprawling neighborhood of 900 houses. The bottles and skeets are leftover refuse dating back probably fifty years to present. The earth colored ceramics are the remains of pots that were crafted by ancient peoples who lived here over 1000 years ago. Back then, this now neglected parcel of land was home to a few Hohokam families who eventually abandoned their pit houses, the remains of which form four shallow depressions outlined by rocks.

I squat among the creosote and gaze around wondering what it looked like then, what it might have sounded like, the smells. A broad plain of desert stretches out from here to forever. Quail calling and cactus wren chattering, just as they do today. The scraping of stone on stone as women grind mesquite pods with mano and metate. Scent of smoke and flatbread being cooked on a small fire of mesquite wood. I can imagine the sherd in my hand as soft wet clay being flattened and molded into the broad bowl that it once was.

Just south of here, there is a place called Hedgepeth Hills, well-known by local archaeologist's as an ancient crossroads where people carved images in rock while they rested and then passed through for thousands of years. The petroglyphs are pecked in dark granite boulders on a hillside next to Skunk Creek, which was once a lush riparian corridor and travelling route. This is also the site of an icon that is the namesake of Deer Valley, which is what we call this village today. The image is of two bucks locking antlers, and graces many City signs and letterheads, including the local school district's.

The former tiny village is also located near an important stone quarry where people gathered white chunks of crystalline quartz called chalcedony, that was prized for making spear points and arrowheads. There are also remains of farming terraces nearby, evidence that people stayed long enough to cultivate food plants, perhaps beans and squash.

Today, most people drive by or walk through this area with absolutely no awareness of the archaeological history of the land. Students on their way to school wheel through on their bikes; construction workers and landscapers dump their loads of trash into the old pit houses; thousands of people drive by every day on the way to and from the high school, littering the roadside with bottles, cans, fast food trash and cigarette butts.

One of my quests is to urge the City to eventually add some interpretive displays to the area so that others might contemplate the rich cultural history that is part of our neighborhood. That, along with a trailhead leading to some of the quartz strewn quarries and lookouts where ancient people may have stood and surveyed that landscape below. Or maybe even a skateboard park with Hohokam inspired designs, where today's children could mingle with spirits of the past.

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