The Sinagua ("without water") Indians once lived across a vast swatch of land, stretching from north of Flagstaff down through the Verde Valley. They disappeared from the archaeological record by 1450, with the northern branch probably beginning to meld into the early Hopi culture. The southern Sinagua's fate is less clear. Some experts have suggested that warring or hostile invaders may have driven the Sinagua away, or killed them all. Others postulate that they moved south to the Phoenix Basin to join the Hohokam around 1300, when most of the Colorado Plateau was undergoing a huge population relocation. This may be true, as the first "Sinagua" were probably in fact Hohokam settlers who later adopted some northern, Anasazi, cultural traditions.
Honanki, a Hopi word meaning "Bear House" is one of the best places to see what the Sinagua life was like in the late 1200's. Located just a few miles away from Palatki Pueblo, and contemporaneous with it, this large cliff dwelling gives a great idea of how populous the Sedona area was back then.
This site is visited far more often than neighboring Palatki, probably due to its easy access. The road is a decent dirt road that most vehicles can travel over, and this site also does not require registration like Palatki. In addition several Sedona jeep tour companies take tourists to this site.
From the parking area, cross the road and stop at the information booth. This is staffed by a Forest Service volunteer or employee during the day, when the ruin is open. There is no fee, but you are required to sign your name and group size, so that the FS can monitor site usage. Then the person will give a brief talk about Honanki, etiquette, and rattlesnakes, which are apparently common during the summer. Then you are left to your own devices.
Heading north from the booth, you will come across a branch in the trail. Stay to the left - you'll come out after the ruin on the trail to the right. As you continue north across the rolling pinon-juniper forest, look through the trees at the base of Loy Butte; you can catch a glimpse of Honanki.
After the trail bends right and brings you up against the cliff, you are at Honanki. There is a fair amount of rock art at this site, some of it located quite high. Some of these high images are hard to imagine someone painting at - how did they reach it?
Most of the main cliff dwelling of Honanki is closed to exploration, but you can take a small spur up into the alcove. When this ruin was built in the late 1100's, it filled the entire alcove, and spilled out onto the valley floor, along the base of the cliff. Quite the complex! This site was much larger than nearby Palatki, or the other well-known Sinagua cliff dwelling of Montezuma's Castle. Take a few minutes to imagine how the ruin would have looked when it was whole, filled with a bustling population of people, turkeys, and dogs.
After climbing back down from the alcove, follow the trail further south along the cliff face. There are more rooms here, some that were at least two stories tall when the pueblo was completed. There are also more rock art images. Look for round "shield" designs. Some people have suggested that these were hexes for the Anasazi, but what they meant for the Sinagua is unknown. They are somewhat common through out the Sinagua heartland (several can be found at Palatki), which suggests their role in life may be more prosaic than cursing someone. They may have simply been identifiers for the village and/or the people living there. Keep your eye out also for several human figures, one who appears to be a flute player. Another may be a dancer (Air Jordan, tinyelvis called it).
After soaking up as much of the ruin as you want, keep hiking along the cliff face until the trail bends right again. This will eventually take you back to the fork in the trail north of the booth, and from there back to your car.
Please note that there is no water on this trail. Fill your water bottles in Sedona or elsewhere before beginning this hike.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.