The V-Bar-V Petroglyph site south of the Village of Oak Creek is one of the most spectacular cultural resources in all of Arizona, and perhaps in the entire Southwest. It recently reopened to the public after having been closed due to the pandemic.
For the past 5 years, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a volunteer docent at the site, under the auspices of Friends of the Forest. Repeatedly, I’ve interacted with residents who bring every visiting group of friends and family to the site. I’ve also learned to recognize locals who come multiple times a year, seeing new aspects of the petroglyphs on each visit. There’s so much to take in at the site that one visit does not do it justice. I see or learn something new each time I’m there, and visitors who interact with different docents are certain to expand their understanding.
On a wall that rises nearly vertically, the Southern Sinagua carved over 1,000 images into the sandstone including images resembling animals: lizards, snakes, turtles, birds, deer, elk and more. There are human-like figures, geometric patterns, suns, and shapes that each person may see and interpret in a different way. In fact, the uncertainty about what some of these images represent is one of the most intriguing aspects of V-Bar-V; as you look at them, your imagination can bring meaning that resonates with you.
While archeologists do not know with certainty, the site seems to have been used ceremonially over a long period of time, with many images carved when a nearby pueblo was inhabited for several hundred years, starting around 1,000 CE (current era).
On one portion of the rock face, archeologists believe that the Sinagua created a complex solar calendar. Until recently, two boulders protruded from the rock face, casting shadows that move across the wall as the seasons change. One boulder naturally fell down several years ago, but the other continues to mark the progression of the year as its’ shadow touches 11 specific petroglyphs.
If you’re shown how to read the interaction of the shadows with the petroglyphs, you can identify important days throughout the year: solstices and equinoxes, times for planting corn, and ceremonial times. It’s a unique testament to the ingenuity, creativity, and keen intelligence of the Sinagua.
The Forest Service has begun a project to create a comfortable and accessible viewing area which will provide a level platform instead of the current sloping ground. They are carefully avoiding any harm to the site’s historic and cultural value.
V-Bar-V is open from 9:30 – 3:00 Friday through Monday. While reservations are not needed, visitors need either a Red Rock Pass or an America the Beautiful pass. You can purchase passes from an on-site kiosk. The on-site Visitor Center will remain closed for the time being.
To ensure the safety of visitors and volunteers, only 25 visitors will be allowed on the site grounds outside the parking lot at any time. Only 12 will be allowed inside the fenced petroglyph area at a time. That fenced area is approximately 1/3 of a mile down a well-maintained path. The parking lot will be staffed in order to regulate the flow of visitors. The volunteer docent at the petroglyphs will stand behind a rope barrier, and visitors are encouraged to wear masks.
V-Bar-V is located 2.8 miles east of the junction of I-17 and SR 179 on FR 618. Watch for the entrance on your right less than one-half mile past the Beaver Creek Campground.
While the Palatki Heritage Site remains closed due to the challenges of ensuring visitor and volunteer safety, Honanki is open to visitors. You can also expand your understanding of the Sinagua by visiting nearby National Monuments: Montezuma Well, Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot. Near Flagstaff, you can visit Wupatki National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument. When visiting any cultural heritage site, anywhere in the world, respect it as you would your own church or home. Please leave it as you found it, and take away only photos, knowledge and memories.
If you’re interested in becoming a docent for Friends of the Forest and helping to introduce visitors to our Native American heritage, or if you just want to learn more about Friends of the Forest, you can contact us via our web site: www.friendsoftheforestsedona.org.
Authored by Craig Swanson