Palatki Heritage Site is one of our favorite Arizona Native American ruins. We hesitate to write a detailed description of what you’ll see because seeing it for the first time, without preconceived notions, is a treat in itself. Nevertheless, prepare to be amazed by beautiful Sinagua cliff dwellings and an abundance of pictographs from Native American people who once lived here. Be sure to bring your phone!
It is believed that Native American ancestors lived in the area from approximately 1150 to 1300 CE. Perhaps human history captured in rock art goes back even farther. Archeologists know little of the former inhabitants. They left the area without communicating with modern researchers where they went, or why. The ruins, rock art, evidence of crops, pottery shards, and some tools are primarily what remains of this area. Volunteers are on-site to answer questions and offer as much information as possible to visitors. Although most people have a desire to dissect and understand what they see, we feel it is far more interesting to simply take in this scenery and imagine a life spent long ago on the ledges of this beautiful land.
We hope you’ll find yourself at Palatki on a day when Charlie, a well-educated volunteer, is in residence. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Charlie has already been adopted by local Native American tribes for his dedication to the people who once lived here, and his desire to share a love of this land with Palatki visitors. Each time we’ve visited Palatki, we felt Charlie’s discussions of the Site greatly enhanced our appreciation of the people who once lived in and traveled this region.
There are two areas to visit at Palatki Heritage Site. After parking and checking in at the visitor center, you are presented with a trail to the left, and one to the right. The rock art is reached by the trail to the left. The path takes a gentle climb upward to rock alcoves. Descending toward the visitor center, a sign will guide you across an open path toward the cliff dwellings. Be ready for a rocky stairway climb to the dwellings. A filled water bottle makes the climb more enjoyable on a hot day.
As with many places we visit in Arizona, getting to Palatki Heritage Site takes more time than the stay. Before setting out, call the Palatki visitor center for reservations at (928) 282-3854. Palatki volunteers suggest calling a day ahead, but we’ve always been able to stop by within a few hours of our call. You must have a current Red Rocks Pass, available at the Palatki visitor center, to visit this site.
The Site is open 7 days a week. Plan to visit Palatki earlier in the day, as it is open between 9:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Also, in summer, the area can be quite hot in the afternoon.
Pets are not welcome. We also request you leave your guns, your candles, your sage smudges, and “new age” paraphernalia at home. This beautiful site has already been desecrated by too many who feel they need to leave their “mark”. Questions? See: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/recreation/red_rock/arch-site-etiquette.shtml
No matter whether you come in from Sedona or up from Cottonwood, plan on a bumpy drive on red dirt roads. Either road can generally be driven by most vehicles, but one with good clearance is preferred. The road is sometimes rutted from recent storms, and odd boulders have been known to find their way onto the track. Occasionally, the roads are impassable due to inclement weather.
Directions from the Coconino National Forest website:
From Sedona: Take Hwy. 89A through West Sedona and continue past the last traffic light for five miles. Just past mile marker 365, turn right onto Forest Road 525. Go north for 5 miles and when F.R. 525 bears left, continue straight ahead onto Forest Road 795 for two miles. This road will lead directly to the Palatki parking lot.
An alternative way to access Palatki it to travel through west Sedona on Hwy. 89A, turn right onto Dry Creek Rd. There are signs at every intersection that will direct you towards Palatki. At the end of Dry Creek Rd, turn left onto Boynton Pass Road (FR 152C). At the next stop sign, turn left again. In a couple of miles, the pavement will end and you should continue on the rough gravel road for three miles until you reach another T intersection where you should turn right. It is 2 miles to Palatki from this intersection. These roads are generally passable to passenger cars when dry, but it is not regularly maintained by the County and has some rough and rocky stretches.
From Cottonwood: Take 89A north from Cottonwood. About 1/2 mile north of mile marker 364, turn left onto a dirt road (Forest Road 525 to Forest Road 795; passable for passenger cars when dry), and drive 7 miles to Palatki Heritage Site and the parking lot.