Some History: Flip through most books on the subject of southwest archeology and you won't find reference to Homolovi Ruins. Why is that? I think you can probably attribute this to the relative "newness" of this State Park. Despite the reference book obscurity, the area has been inhabited throughout the ages.
The Anasazi farmed the area and built pueblo dwellings. Cotton was a popular crop, as evidenced by the weaving looms, spindle whorls and cottonseeds that have been found. Some of this evidence is on display today in the Visitor Center. The nearby Little Colorado River provided water for the inhabitants, the cotton and their other crops. The site was along the prehistoric Palatkwapi Trail, which ran from Montezuma Castle to the Hopi mesas. Trading of cotton, pottery and parrots was common between the many prehistoric sites in northern Arizona.
At the peak, it is estimated that some 5,000 people lived at the Homolovi sites. Homolovi II, the largest of the four pueblos, had three plazas and stone walls rising two to three stories. In the 1400's, the area was mysteriously abandoned, just as were many other Southwest ruins.
The Hopi people, descendants of the Anasazi, consider Homolovi to be part of their homeland. They continue to make pilgrimages to these sites, renewing the ties of the people with the land. The Hopi tell us that the broken pottery and stones are now part of the land and are the trail the Bahana will follow when he returns. These are mute reminders that the Hopi continue to follow the true Hopi way and the instructions of Masau'u. In an effort to protect some of these sites, the Hopi people supported the idea of Homolovi Ruins State Park. This idea resulted in the establishment of the park in 1986 and the opening of the park in 1993.
Prior to 1986, this area was primarily open range land subject to vandalism and theft. Witness bullet holes in some of the rock art or holes dug by pot hunters. Placing the lands under State Park jurisdiction has hopefully put an end to this wanton destruction. There is also Mormon Pioneer history associated with the site. The remains of the Sunset Community Cemetery are located close to the Visitor Center. The Mormon settlement was established in 1876 and abandoned in 1888. Remains of the mill, dam, and other buildings were all washed away during a major flood of the Little Colorado River in 1933. Google "Lot Smith" for more information.
The Hikes: From the park entrance on the west side of Hwy 87, proceed to the Visitor Center. Pay the $5 entrance fee and check out the artifacts on display, most of which have been uncovered from the more than 300 archeological sites within the park boundaries. Ask the Ranger on duty about the hiking trails and they will provide you a pamphlet for self-guided hiking at Homolovi. There are five main trails to be considered;
Nusungv: The name means "Place of Rest" in the Hopi language and is a 1.2 mile primitive hike across high prairie grasslands. This trail goes from the Visitor Center to the campground area. A side trail leads to the Sunset Cemetery.
Tsu'vo: The name means "Path of the Rattlesnake" in Hopi. It is a 0.5 mile loop trail between the twin buttes. It is a nature and archaeological trail where you can see desert prairie vegetation, milling stone areas and petroglyphs.
Dino: This 1.5 mile trail goes to Dino Point and ties in with both other trails. Din Point shows a scenic view of the park.
Homolovi II Trail: 0.5 mile paved trail that is wheelchair accessible. The trail allows access to the largest of the Park's archaeological sites and contains an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 rooms. It is believed that these pueblos were once home to the ancestors of the present-day Hopi people. Much of the activity took place during the fourteenth century. There continue to be similarities between the architecture, pottery styles, and art motifs of the Hopi people in the north, and the prehistoric inhabitants of Homolovi.
Homolovi I Trail: 0.5 mile dirt trail that weaves through the remains of 1,000+ rooms of a three story pueblo destroyed by flooding during the 1300's. It is thought that the continual flooding prompted the Anasazi to relocate to the Hopi mesas. Pottery shards litter the site. Do not remove any of the archeological artifacts!
At the time of this writing, Homolovi III and IV were both closed to the public. The Ranger on duty did give me a contact card indicating that it may be possible to arrange guided tours of these closed sites during the drier summer months.
Upon leaving the Visitor Center, we headed north towards the Homolovi II site. At the first turn-out, take the Tsu'vo Loop Trail the heads towards the east between the twin buttes. This trail has a variety of features associated with human presence for almost 11,000 years. Rock art appears on almost every boulder. Grinding stones are evident as well as a seasonal square stone field house dating from 650-850 A.D. Sadly, evidence of vandalism is everywhere. There are markers along the trail corresponding with the self-guided hiking pamphlet distributed at the Visitor Center. There is also a branch trail heading towards the south and east. This is the Dine Trail that loops back to the Visitor Center via the Nusungvo Trail.
With threatening skies, we decided to continue north to the Homolovi II Ruins Trail. The trail climbs to the top of a ridge where you see the excavated walls of a 2,000 room pueblo. A large kiva is also prominent. Sadly, more evidence of past vandalism exists in the form of holes dug by pot hunters.
We moved on to the Homolovi I Ruins Trail beside the banks of the Little Colorado River. This trail is somewhat random as it weaves throughout the remains of a 1,000 room pueblo. There are stakes and blue tarps throughout the site, evidence of recent archeological digs. Pottery shards (or is it sherds?) are everywhere. As always, the shard is placed back in its original position on the ground when we finished examination.
A combination of freezing rain and snow stopped us from completing the Nusungvo Trail to check out the ghost town settlement of Sunset. Maybe that we be our excuse for a return visit...
Summary: The paved, open roads at Homolovi also provide a biking opportunity. The circuit may be reminiscent of a shorter Wupatki National Monument ride at about 14.4 miles. Although there are camping facilities at the State Park, staying at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow AZ is highly recommended. Considering the weather conditions on the day we visited, this isn't just a recommendation, but a must! This recently restored historic railroad hotel was the favorite project of architect and designer Mary Colter. Dinner at the hotel's Turquoise Room Restaurant may be the best combination of price and culinary experience in the state. Check out http://www.laposada.org/ for more information. Enjoy!
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.