On 13 October 2007, my dad and I took this season's first Upper Cliff Dwelling tour at Tonto National Monument. We were quite fortunate in this the Centennial Year of the Monument to be joined by not only the superb ranger who led the hike, but also a past superintendent of the Monument, the spouse of one of the Monument's early surveyors, and a researcher from the Sonoran Institute. I did a lot of listening.
After leaving the parking lot we hiked for only a few minute through desert terrain before quickly entering another world of a riparian system. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees under the shade of a thick canopy of Sycamore, Black Walnut, and Mesquites. A creek ran before us as the ranger pointed out where laser-triggered cameras were strategically placed to record wildlife. She passed around photos of mountain lions, bobcats, and bears. In one set of photos, you could see a bear approaching the camera. The next photo was a random shot from a displaced camera; curiosity killed the cam!
As we exited the riparian system to continue our ascent to the manor, the ranger shared with us that in the immediate area, there were approximately 100 eatable plantsâ€”a true Salado Bar. I helped myself to a few straggler Jojoba beans on the way up--not bad. The remainder of the trail, approximately one mile, was a completely exposed, but gentle, well-graded journey, that afforded views into the Superstition Wilderness and over Roosevelt Lake.
At the ruins, it was clear to me that even back in the 1200's or so, people enjoyed a place with a view. The ranger offered much more sophisticated reasons for the location: defense, a water supply that leached through the canyon walls into the dwelling (see photo of the "well"), a built-in "refrigerator" (see photo), but as I gazed over what was once the river valley, I couldn't help but think of a Salado enjoying the same view and thinking, "life is good." Continuing with sophisticated things, the ranger pointed out that in the earlier part of the structure, the Salado's used only Saguaro ribs covered in sediment for their roofing; however, in later additions to the structure, they used fewer Saguaro ribs and more reeds from the river. The reeds would have required a much longer walk to the river basin and back than a walk out the "door" to collect Saguaro ribs. This, the ranger said, added to the theory that resources were getting scarce prior to the Salado's departure in approximately 1450 AD. To me, it looked like a combination of a few saguaro ribs with reeds made for a more efficient base on which to place the sediment. Furthermore, in my humble opinion, it may have, in fact been easier to grab a bunch of reeds from the basin where the Salados spent a lot of their time, anyway, than it would have been to run around looking for Saguaro ribs from dead Saguaros or in the alternative felling and butchering those large, spiked plants growing in such convenient places like the sides of cliffs. Have a look at the photos and decide for yourself; better yet, take the tour!
When there wasn't enough water leaching through the walls of the manor, which was most of the time, the Salados lugged their water from the creek in woven baskets, the ranger explained. I couldn't imagine the skill that would have been required to do that: a watertight, woven basket! The ranger also shared with us bits of pottery that the Salados made and other pieces that archaeological study indicates came from regions far awayâ€”evidence of trade and commerce. Nobody knows for sure what happened to the Salados, The primary theory rests on a scarcity argument, with some believing it was due to a mini ice-age. Another theory, according to the ranger, was the influx of bellicose Apache; however, the ranger posited that for the most part, the Apache would have been in the area well after 1450.
I enjoyed this easy-going hike very much. I was tremendously impressed with what I learned about the Salados and with the folks who taught me about them. I highly recommend this hike for anyone who wants to take it slow over quite a short distance to learn a little bit about the Salados and their environs.