Petroglyphs, Flowers and Rocks That Ring

Aleksandra Kolosowsky | Saguaro National Park

By Karen E. Peterson

The ancient Hohokams of Central and Southern Arizona saw an otherworldly meaning in our state’s radiance: in the springtime explosion of bright yellow flowers on paloverde trees; in the carpeting of purple lupines and orange poppies; in crimson cactus blossoms; in hummingbirds, butterflies, even the glint of minerals in the desert sand. For those who lived here first, these were visual thresholds through which they could glimpse the Flower World — the glimmering, iridescent land of the spirits.

The Flower World is a belief system that arose from Mesoamerica many thousands of years ago and spread to Central America, Mexico and the American Southwest. It did not fade with time but became rooted in the spiritual expressions of 30 modern Native cultures, including the Hohokams' descendants, the Tohono O’odhams and Akimel O’odhams.

You can see its influence even today, in celebrations like November’s spectacular Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration, and in the mesmerizing Yaqui Deer Dance performed at Pascua Yaqui communities in Tucson and Guadalupe, outside Phoenix. The beauty and athleticism of the Yaqui Easter ceremony is downright “flowery,” in the sense of what the word means in Flower World terminology — masculine strength and courage.

Once you know about the Flower World and live in Arizona, its flower metaphors pop up practically everywhere, which is one reason these volunteer petroglyph sleuths are balanced this late autumn day like so many mountain sheep on the upper slopes of a 200-foot pile of rocks and boulders — a cone of stones known as an inselberg, or “rock island.” They're just weeks away from completing what they began two and a half years earlier: a painstaking, physically strenuous, bottom-to-top identification — hand-recorded and tabulated, photographed and GPS-coordinated — of the multitude of images on this aerie canvas 30 dusty miles from Tucson, near the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The hill was the last and smallest location in a multi-year investigation of the Flower World’s presence among the early Hohokams by rock art researchers Janine Hernbrode and Peter Boyle, not by way of conventional archaeological means — finding representations on pottery, for instance — but by closer examination of where people gathered: petroglyph sites like this one.

By late December 2017, the work of Hernbrode, Boyle and their 15 hardy volunteers, collectively the “Rock Band,” was completed, and the overall exploration of petroglyph sites in the Tucson valley at its end, save for crunching the data, Flower World-related and otherwise. Final results notwithstanding, as the work progressed on this little hill, Hernbrode remembers thinking, “Something special is going on here.”

Flowers Everywhere

The remote inselberg on privately owned and fenced ranchland was the culmination of a quest that began in 2012, following an encounter with a rock art specialist from Texas. She pointed to a glyph at a Hohokam site in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of the city, where Hernbrode and Boyle were working on another project, and remarked that it looked like a flower.

“She asked if I’d heard of the Flower World. I hadn’t,” Hernbrode says. She remedied the gap by turning to the work of Jane H. Hill, retired anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, whose specialty was linguistics.

In her groundbreaking 1992 study, The Flower World of Old Uto-Aztecan, Hill explores the emergence of what she terms the “Flower World Complex,” from its Mesoamerican origins to its spread into the Southwest. A belief system grounded in nature, the Flower World found a welcoming home within the Ancestral Puebloan culture of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

“If you wanted to endow something with a sacred quality, you would call it ‘flowery,’” Hill elaborates. “Flowers represent the idea of what a beautiful, sacred holy world would be like.” This world had no barriers — it could be experienced by anyone, shaman or not, by way of faith, song and flowers.

What is less well known is the Hohokam’s embrace of the Flower World during the same timeframe as the Ancestral Puebloans, roughly 1,000 years ago.

The Hohokams' Sonoran Desert homeland was within the path of migration from Mesoamerica, and fieldwork at Hohokam settlements uncovered artifacts from other cultures, indicating a trading route. But more conclusive evidence was needed to confirm the Flower World Complex within early Hohokam spiritual practice.

It could be, too, that the ephemeral nature of how the Flower World was expressed by the Hohokams and their descendants — by song, primarily — made it more difficult to trace. The word “music” in the language of the Tohono O’odhams, Hill notes, translates to “flowers for ears.”  

In her paper, Hill suggested that a re-examination of Hohokam artifacts, including petroglyphs, might offer up clues. Intrigued, Hernbrode and Boyle began looking at previously recorded glyphs at the Santa Catalinas location and atop Tumamoc Hill in downtown Tucson, site of a Hohokam settlement. Both had a good number of what appeared to be flowers, when you knew what to look for.

“My mantra is one is nice, two are interesting, three is a pattern,” says Hernbrode, whose pattern here included related Flower World imagery — birds and butterflies — that help make up the full complement of Hill’s Flower World Complex. With sponsorship by the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, the two opted to take one more look at a location that included this compact stack of stones.

So Much to Say

The Tohono O’odham call the hill “Chuhl tho’ag,” and say the name likely alludes to the once-running, life-sustaining stream at its base. Flat boulders along the banks are pockmarked with morteros — holes created by grinding mesquite beans for flour gathered from trees lining the waterway.  

An oasis for desert dwellers, the O’odhams consider it a sacred gathering site and a seasonal home in the past for mesquite harvesting. Rock Band volunteer William Gillespie, a retired archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service, found evidence of a nearby settlement during breaks from glyph hunting.

So while the hill may seem to be (and is) in the middle of nowhere now, back then, it was very much on the beaten path, its bounty of rocks offering up the means for mass communication.

In part, the hill confirmed what Hernbrode and Boyle had hypothesized: The Hohokam’s embrace of the Flower World appears contemporaneous “with its appearance in areas like Chaco Canyon,” Hernbrode says. Confident in their early analysis, she refers to the 900-plus individual Flower World images the team recorded there. Roughly two-thirds are images of birds and butterflies, one-third flowers, among them images that look much like the real thing, from cactus flowers to wildflowers, when photographed side by side.

If that was all the team discovered after years of hard rock labor, the results would be singularly significant, today and for future researchers, who may discover, as Hernbrode suspects, that the Flower World came to the Ancestral Puebloans through the Hohokams first, not vice versa, as assumed.

But the hill had more to impart.                            

To begin, the tidy inselberg is jammed with more than 9,000 images — abstracts to animals, including 900 snake glyphs  — a profusion that may crown the hill as having the largest collection of petroglyphs in Southern Arizona. Hernbrode also suggests that, given its small size, it could have the “densest collection of glyphs” in a state blessed with rock art.

Then there were the “bell rocks” — solid, hefty boulders that when struck with a mallet sound, astoundingly, as clear and joyful as choir handbells. They're found worldwide, but here they counted 40 scattered serendipitously across the inselberg, identified by ages-old strike marks on their surfaces. Tonally ranging over three octaves, each returning a different pitch, some are grouped together to allow for harmonies, notes Boyle, who focused on the bell rocks with volunteer Carl Evertsbusch.  

The relationship, if any, between the Flower World and the bell rocks is unknown, though how special it must have been for congregants — nature’s own music to accompany a belief system delivered in song.

With “beginning” also one of the supposed meanings of Chuhl tho’ag, it is worth musing that the name refers to another intriguing find — imagery of the Hohokam and O’odham origin story. While these images are found throughout the hill, one particular grouping stood out: Glyphs are pecked into a pair of neighboring boulders in such a way that the unformed humans, fashioned as stick-art barbells, emerge from the natural fissure between the rocks to become fully human, though curiously with bowed legs.

“Everyone needs someplace to commemorate their beginnings,” says Hernbrode of the provocative pictorial, adding, “They emerged in groups, holding on to one another.”

What Now?

Hernbrode and Boyle have their work cut out as they sift through the data and begin publishing their latest findings, the first appearing this year in American Indian Rock Art.

As for the remarkably intimate inselberg, it isn’t going anywhere, though all involved are hoping its future is protected. “A sacred site, it is obviously very significant for the Nation,” says Peter Steere, Tohono O’odham historic preservation officer.

Property owner Jesus Arvizu has been happy to share its slopes with the Rock Band researchers. He also allows open access to the O’odhams, as a matter of courtesy and respect. As the hill’s steward, Arvizu receives kudos from Steere, who has walked the rugged area for signs of trespassers — hikers, drug traffickers, vandals — and reports that he hasn’t “even seen a cigarette butt.” As Steere points out, defacing or disturbing petroglyphs in any way is a felony offense under the Arizona Antiquities Act.

A businessman and rancher, Arvizu operates the Cocoraque Ranch and Pavilion, a popular Old West venue for corporate and private events, with its refurbished ranch house, cowboy decor, rodeo corral and plenty of room to dance. He also takes guests on horseback rides to the petroglyph site.

Arvizu has been approached about selling the land, and is willing. Pima County, in whose jurisdiction the hill sits, has the 160-acre property on its open space wish list, but previously secured bond money is gone and all county funding measures were voted down in the 2015 election. Still, county archaeologist Linda Mayro, who said her visit to the site “underscored my goal to see it preserved,” confirms that the county continues to look “for opportunities to ensure the permanent preservation of this exceptional cultural resource."

For now, Arvizu remains its caretaker, visiting frequently as he checks on cattle and fences. While Arvizu admits that he had no idea until recently “how valuable the hill is to history,” he has long understood its allure: “I sometimes sit on the top of the hill. It is so peaceful and quiet. Looking out over the valley, I go back in time and can’t help but wonder how it must have been.”

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Throwback Thursday: October 1969

From the issue: "'Someone Left the Gate Open.' From an oil painting by artist Joe Beeler. The artist, who lives in Sedona and is enjoying increasing repute as a fine Western artist, is no stranger to ranch life and the Western scene. When we asked him to do something for us featuring barbed wire, this painting was the result. When we questioned him about the long horns of the cow, he explained in coyote country mamma cow is allowed long horns to protect her calf."

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CCP Announces UA Presidential Scholar

David Hume Kennerly

A Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer has been named a University of Arizona Presidential Scholar, the university's Center for Creative Photography announced this month.

David Hume Kennerly will be based at the CCP and will develop lectures and events that touch on photography, journalism, history, government, sociology and other topics, the center's director, Anne Breckenridge Barrett, announced in a letter to CCP supporters.

Kennerly won the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Feature Photography at age 25, and he later was the chief White House photographer during President Gerald Ford's administration. "His body of work includes images from 12 presidential campaigns, several wars, including Vietnam, and many other significant historical moments," Barrett said.

The UA's president, Robert C. Robbins, made the appointment. Kennerly is the first Presidential Scholar appointed during Robbins' tenure.

"This is a solid indicator of the new and expanding role that the CCP plays in the interdisciplinary academic experience of UA students from across the campus," Barrett wrote.

The CCP opened in 1975 and now houses more than 90,000 photographs by more than 2,200 photographers. For more information, visit the center's website.

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Rim to River: A Grand Canyon Adventure

Silver Bridge spans the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, as viewed from the south side of the river. In the distance is Black Bridge. | Noah Austin

The signs at the Grand Canyon's South Rim are very clear: Hiking to the Colorado River and back in one day is not recommended due to long distance, extreme heat, and a nearly 5,000-foot elevation change. The warning is printed in four different languages, but the accompanying illustration — a hiker, on his hands and knees, vomiting profusely — requires no translation. It's not for the faint of heart: 9.5 miles from the Bright Angel Trailhead to Phantom Ranch, and another 9.5 miles back up.

Last week, I figured I'd try it anyway.

I set out on Bright Angel just after 9 a.m. The weather was perfect: cloudy and in the low 40s, with a nice breeze. Throughout the day, there were threats of rain, and I could see rain falling on the North Rim in the distance, but I never got a drop. And while the sun peeked through the clouds a few times during my hike, the cliffs along the trail provided plenty of shade.

On the way down, I enjoyed the view and marveled at how good I felt. This is gonna be a breeze! I thought. But the trail is deceptively steep, particularly on two sets of switchbacks — one just below the rim, the other just past Indian Garden (Mile 4.5). And the views are so spectacular that it's easy to forget how quickly you're descending.

By 12:30 p.m., I'd reached Pipe Creek Beach on the muddy Colorado River. From there, the trail continues east for about a mile and a half to Silver Bridge, then across to Phantom Ranch on the north side of the river. I stopped there, filled up my water bladder and ate. The temperature on the river was probably 75 degrees.

On the return trip, I reached Indian Garden without much trouble. But then I hit a wall: I was out of energy, and I still had 4.5 miles of steep switchbacks to climb before reaching the top. It was a slog, and I took extended breaks at both the 3 Mile Resthouse and the Mile and a Half Resthouse before making my push to the top. I got there just after 6 p.m., right after sunset.

I'm proud to have accomplished a rim-to-river hike in one day, but I also can see why, according to the National Park Service, some 350 people need to be rescued from the Canyon each year. I'm a fairly experienced hiker, and I was carrying 2 liters of water, plenty of food, layers of clothing and electrolyte pills — and I still had doubts about whether I was going to make it. (I didn't vomit, but I came close.)

If you're considering this hike, you need to be aware of your own physical limitations and hiking abilities. Check the forecast before you commit to it — keeping in mind that it's always much warmer at the bottom than at the top. And be sure to heed the other part of the ominous warning on those signs: If you think you have the fitness and expertise to attempt this extremely strenuous hike, please seek advice from a park ranger at the Backcountry Information Center.

— Noah Austin, Associate Editor

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The Lucky Shirt

Jesse Sensibar | Courtesy of Tolsun Books

The following is excerpted from Blood in the Asphalt, a new book by Arizona author Jesse Sensibar. It appears here with permission from Tolsun Books.


The burgundy 2007 Ford four-wheel drive truck was traveling west from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Kingman, Arizona when the driver lost control near Winona and rolled the truck. The owner of the truck was killed. We towed the truck to our storage yard where it was parked on the gravel in the back corner near the gate, backed in against the eight-foot chain-link fence.

In spite of the owner being deceased, I fully expected to hear from somebody about the wreck; family members would want to come and collect personal effects. In spite of being totaled, the truck still had significant salvage value. Insurance companies would be sending adjusters and possibly investigators to minimize risk and figure out cause and liability, pay tow bills, and arrange for the truck to be sold for salvage.

But nobody came. The truck sat in the storage yard for almost a month. I had a phone number for the owner’s parents, and finally I had to call and speak to the father of the owner of the truck. I said how sorry I was for his loss and explained my situation. I asked if he knows if his son had any collision insurance on the truck, and he told me that he did not. I explained to him, gently, kindly as I can, that the truck is sitting in our storage yard, and about my large towing and storage bill, but offered that the bill could be paid if I could sell the truck. If he could send me the title, I would not ever have to bother him again with any of this. He told me he would see what he could do. I told him again how sorry I was for his loss, and I apologized for having to ever bother him with this sort of thing.

A week after this conversation I received a letter from the owner’s mother which detailed the cold, callous, and heartless phone call her husband had received from a “representative” of the company. The letter went on to say that her son was carrying “valuable collectables” in the truck, and that if the towing company would send them to her, she would send us a title.

I looked in what is left of the truck because nobody else wanted to get anywhere near it if they didn’t have to. The closest thing I found to something of value was a center console full of change and a few dollar bills. I went back to my desk and filled out the paperwork to begin the lengthy process of filing with the state of Arizona for an abandoned title on the truck.

The truck sat forlornly at the back of the storage yard through the winter and into the spring, ignored, but not completely forgotten. Sometimes I looked out the window and saw it sitting at the back of the yard quietly mocking me. Mocking me for my failure to communicate with the dead owner’s father. Mocking me because in spite of my best efforts I still had come up short. Still had come across as callous and coldhearted. Mocking me by its very presence, sitting there taking up space, accruing storage fees that would never be paid. It laughed quietly at me and whispered, You could have done a better job, you could have tried a little harder, could have been a little nicer. But it only whispered, like so many other things in my busy life, and I was used to ignoring the quiet voices. At some point in the spring the title finally arrived and I was legally free to sell what was left of the truck and finally marked the tow bill “paid.”

Before we drug the truck up from the back of the yard, I decided I wanted it searched. I’d been doing this for years, and when things strike me as odd, there is usually a reason for it.

I sent my girlfriend’s 18-year-old nephew out to search the truck, and I sent one of my employees out to watch him do it. The Kid had a bad attitude. Wanted to be a hustler but he didn’t have any hustle. Wanted to be a player but he didn’t have any game. All he really did very well was smoke pot and get beat up.

I sent my driver, Purcell, out to watch him because the last thing I wanted was for the Kid to find a bunch of drugs or a gun and decide to steal it and really get himself in trouble. I told the Kid about the money in the console and said he could keep all the folding money if he brought me all the change. They disappeared and returned a half hour later. How’d you do? I asked. Purcell took off his shades and rolled his eyes. The Kid was happy. He’d found $26 and a bunch of clothes that were three or four sizes too big for him, just the way he liked them, along with one large knife. I told him he could leave the knife and sent him on his way. After the Kid left, Purcell laughed and said if I really wanted that truck searched he’d better go back to do it. I told him not to sweat it.

Later that afternoon I wandered out to the truck to check it out for myself. I noticed that the Kid’s idea of searching the truck consisted of throwing everything from inside of the cab through the missing back window and into the bed, taking out the things he wanted, and leaving everything else in the bed of the truck to be eventually picked up by the wind and scattered around my yard where someone would someday have to pick it all up. This came as no surprise to me. I’d expected nothing more from him.

I started tossing the things he had left in the bed of the truck back into the cab through the missing rear window when I picked up the shirt. It was a burgundy and black plaid with thin yellow stripes, dirty from six months in the cab of a badly rolled pickup truck with all the windows busted out of it. The first thing I noticed was that it seemed like a heavy-weight, possibly high-quality shirt. Once I shook the busted glass and chunks of dirt out it I looked at the tag. Not only was it an L.L. Bean shirt, but it was actually going to be big enough to fit me. 

I checked the front chest pockets. When I squeezed one of them, something inside of it mushed flat between my fingers but then expanded like it had a little spring to it when I let go. There is only one thing in the world that does this, especially after half a year out in the weather, and from a lifetime association with pocketfuls of cash I knew exactly what it was. I was expecting to find a few dollars, some twenties, a ten and a bunch of ones. Maybe if I got lucky a hundred bucks, if not so lucky maybe 17 or 38 dollars.

What I found was 940 dollars in still new-looking $20 bills. Forty-seven $20 bills folded in half makes a nice-feeling bulge in your shirt pocket. Too thick to put in your wallet, especially on a long drive from Albuquerque to Kingman, it will make your wallet so thick that it will cause your back to hurt before very long. Sooner, rather than later, if you are a guy who already wears a shirt in size XXL-REG.

So you put it in the pocket of the shirt you are wearing on that day. That day you are going to die. That day you are going to get crushed to death by your own pickup truck as it lands on top of you in an icy ditch near Winona, Arizona on a freezing morning in January. You are not actually wearing that shirt when death comes for you because if you were it would end up in the morgue and then the Department of Public Safety evidence locker with the rest of your personal effects, but it is the shirt you are wearing that day, otherwise it would not have your 940 dollars in it, which would become my 940 dollars, because you took off your shirt before you were killed because the heater in your almost new truck worked so well. And your shirt becomes my lucky shirt, not because I found 940 dollars in it, but because I have seen so much death up so close, so many people die as you have died that I have become so familiar with it, perhaps too familiar with it. So familiar, so comfortable, that now the shirt you were wearing the day you died becomes my lucky shirt, because you died in it. Because I have seen so much, I know that it can and does happen to anyone, someone any day, every day, myself included.

But now I have your shirt, and your shirt becomes my lucky shirt, because I know that the chances of two people dying in the same shirt are slim indeed. So I wear your shirt without any remorse, without any fear, in total disregard for our social norms of shying away from death and our dead because I know that my chances of dying are high, but I know that the chances of two men, even two large men, dying in the same shirt are very, very small.


From Blood in the Asphalt by Jesse Sensibar. © 2018 Jesse Sensibar. Reprinted with permission from Tolsun Books.

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Mainline Paving Begins on South Mountain Freeway

Courtesy of Arizona Department of Transportation

The Arizona Department of Transportation has begun paving the main section of the new South Mountain Freeway stretch of Loop 202.

The pavement was laid down in late September in the Ahwatukee Foothills neighborhood of Phoenix, ADOT said in a news release.

Mainline paving is expected to continue until just prior to the opening of the 22-mile freeway, which could occur as early as late 2019, ADOT said. Following the paving, crews will add lighting, signs and landscaping.

Approximately 10 million cubic yards of earth is being hauled and compacted for the project, ADOT said, adding that such an amount is enough to fill the Arizona Cardinals' stadium 13 times.

The public can stay informed about the South Mountain Freeway project by visiting southmountainfreeway.com.

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Taliesin West Hosts Photography Exhibit

Photograph by Pedro E. Guerrero | Courtesy of Taliesin West

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright's former headquarters in Scottsdale is the site of an upcoming exhibition of rarely seen photos by one of Wright's longtime associates.

The show at Taliesin West runs from October 18 through November 14, and it honors Pedro E. Guerrero, a well-known architectural photographer and native of the Phoenix area.

According to Taliesin West, Guerrero was 22 years old when Wright hired him, beginning a 20-year friendship that "produced some of the most powerful photographs ever taken of Wright and his work."

The show features 14 original, signed photographs taken by Guerrero at Taliesin West in the 1940s and '50s, when he served as Wright's official photographer.

Guerrero's widow, Dixie, said in a news release, said Taliesin West was where her husband "really became a photographer," adding that "he approached it as if it were sculpture, and that seemed to please Frank Lloyd Wright."

The Guerrero collection can be viewed by purchasing tickets to any Taliesin West tour. Prices start at $35 for adults, $25 for students and $19 for youths.

In addition to the showing, Taliesin West is hosting an October 17 lecture on the significance of Guerrero's work, along with a three-day photography seminar.

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Tom Kollenborn: 1938-2018

Tom Kollenborn | Via Facebook

Tom Kollenborn, an Arizona cowboy, author and historian whose work focused on the Superstition Mountains and the legend of the Lost Dutchman gold mine, died in late September. He was 80.

Kollenborn died of cancer, a longtime friend told The Arizona Republic.

Kollenborn's interest in the Superstitions, which are east of the Phoenix area, began early in his life. As he recounted on his website:

In the early spring of 1948, I was introduced to the Superstition Mountains at First Water by my father. We hiked into East Boulder Canyon then over into Needle Canyon near John Pearce’s old camp. We spent the night and hiked out the next day. I was ten years old and this was my first real introduction to the mountains. The story, the rugged mountain and the serenity of region capture my imagination for the rest of my life.

He would go on to write numerous articles and books about the Superstitions, the Apache Trail and the Lost Dutchman legend. (That legend holds that a German prospector named Jacob Waltz discovered a rich gold deposit in the Superstitions, but died before divulging its location. Since then, countless people have tried to find the site.)

Kollenborn lived in the Apache Junction area. He wrote a regular column for the Apache Junction News, and as recently as last year, he was participating in a History Channel documentary about the Lost Dutchman myth.

"The Apache Junction area has lost a local legend with the passing of Tom Kollenborn,'' Apache Junction Mayor Jeff Serdy told The Republic. "He leaves behind a void that cannot be filled by another person, but thankfully we will always have his written word that is larger than life."

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Throwback Thursday: October 1925

From the issue: "The cover picture for Arizona Highways for October is a photograph of the Arizona Natural Bridge in Gila County. It is in the heart of the Tonto Basin, made famous by Zane Grey in To the Last Man." (The bridge now is known as Tonto Natural Bridge and is protected by a state park.)

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