Palatki Outdoor Museum

An Outdoor Museum of Indian Life

On the outskirts of Sedona, Arizona, nestled against red rock cliffs is Palatki, an outdoor museum of American Indian life. By exploring Palatki’s ruins, alcoves and open spaces, it is easy to imagine how this heritage site might very well have been a “town center” for smaller Sinaguan settlements in the area.
sedona palatki verde valley

Living Quarters

Down a short trail to the right of the visitor center in a box canyon are the ruins of two dwellings. The smaller ruin on the west is closed to the public because of significant deterioration, but the other ruin with its nine rooms is open for viewing. The Palatki ruins give a good idea of Sinaguan building techniques. The Sinaguans were naturally adept at green construction, choosing sites, like Palatki, that maximized the sun in winter and provided shade in hotter months. Whenever possible, the Indians built against a rock wall and looked for overhangs, which functioned as natural umbrellas. They also used materials that were readily available, such as pine logs, juniper branches and mud.

Ceremonial Alcoves

On the other side of the visitor center were the community’s gathering places with notable rock art on alcove walls. There are a few petroglyphs (images scratched into rock) but pictographs or painted images predominate. According to anthropologists, the rock art spans several thousand years—from the Clovis Culture about 12,000 years ago to the earliest Anglo settlers in the 1800s. Images include abstract symbols as well as colored animal and human forms. Occasional tours go past the first two public alcoves—The Grotto and The Bear Alcove—towards an agave roasting pit, which is one of the largest in the Verde Valley. Embracing the pit is a third alcove with a variety of designs, including a reclining Lalenhoya, the humpbacked Hopi flute player.

The Willard Homestead

Native Americans weren’t the only ones captivated by Palatki’s beauty. Charles Willard discovered the site in the 1920s and decided to homestead. He planted an orchard with 2,000 trees (a handful of which still stand) in the Sinaguan vegetable garden and built a home, which is today’s visitor center. While the house was under construction, Willard lived for two years in a stone dwelling just beyond The Grotto.

-By Sylvia Somerville