On a central Arizona hillside above Willow Lake rests the site of another American Indian tribe that mysteriously vanished from the Southwest about 1,000 years ago. And like the Hohokam to the south, no one seems to know for certain why it died out.
It is a breezy Sunday afternoon when Nebra and I come unexpectedly upon the small site while doing a hike above the northern end of Willow Lake, near Prescott. It is hard to miss.
Three of the “homes” rest behind fortress-like ramadas and on this day under lock and chain. Two just above the lake and another atop a nearby hill. The other 17 homes are beneath the surface and of course out of sight.
The Willow Lake Archaeological Site looks out from a warm and mostly-barren, south-facing slope. At just over 5,000 feet elevation, it is a more temperate environment than that of the Hohokams on the desert floor around Phoenix.
For lack of a more meaningful name, the people who began settling here in 850 A.D. are called ‘The Prescott Culture.”
We amble along the cement walkway, reading the interpretative signs and staring inside the shadowed ramadas to an almost nothingness. Just the outlines of the archaeological dig strike the eye.
The Prescott Culture site existed from 900-1100 A.D. Excavations began in the winter of 2003.
To me, it is a curious thing that this site would not be open to the public on a weekend when most of us have free time. I found this puzzle also true for other venues in and around Prescott, which by the way was the first capital of Arizona Territory. Even the Prescott National Forest offices on Cortez Street just south of downtown were closed for Saturday and Sunday. So much for hiking maps.
A closer viewing of the site will have to await another day.