Located in Northern Arizona Chavez Pass is a pleasant place amid its juniper and pinion forest. It’s located about half way between Winslow and Pine, Arizona. It’s been a favorite hunting spot for hunters over the decades but there is something else there too. Ruins! And I plan to visit the site again this coming summer and I will share my research and photos with you here.
The ruins are the remains of a rather extensive paleoindian settlement. They were made by a people known as the Sinaqua and the majority of the complex remains buried even though extensive excavations have been conducted there by various universities including Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University. The name “Sinagua” comes from the combination of two Spanish words. “Sin” means “without” and “agua” means “water” so the name means “without water” or “no water.” Even though the region is forest water is scarce. There are not only ruins but also petroglyphs.
Several human remains have been excavated from the site and you can find a list of them at the NPS link below. Of note is that about 22,000 years ago a meteor struck in the area northwest of the ruins and today it is known as Meteor Crater which is near Interstate 40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. Many scientists believe the mass was part of a planet that once existed between Mars and Jupiter destroyed by some unknown cosmic collision! The impact created a massive crater and the soil was thrown out for miles and miles around the area.
The Sinagua were a pre-Columbian paleoindian culture that occupied a large portion of what is today central Arizona including the Little Colorado River Valley, the Mogollon Rim, the Salt River, and Verde Valley between 500 AD and 1425 AD. Their homes were mostly pit houses similar to those built by another native peoples in the area called the Hohokam who mostly lived in what is today southern Arizona. Later the Sinagua began building other structures that were like the Pueblos seen in other parts of the southwestern US. For the most part the Sinagua were farmers and hunter-gatherers.
The last known site where the Sinagua lived is at the site known as Montezuma’s Castle which today is a national monument in the Verde Valley of Arizona. They occupied this cliff dwelling around 1425 AD as near as we can tell. And for some unknown reason the Sinagua like other peoples in the region suddenly abandoned their habitation sites around 1425 AD. Many things have been suggested as the reason for this but we don’t know for certain why these people suddenly abandoned their settlements in the American southwest all about the same time.
Chavez Pass was named after Lt Col Jose Francisco Chavez. Chavez was a 19th century military leader, politician, lawyer, and rancher from the New Mexico Territory. In 1857 he married Mary Bowie and they had two daughters. Married died in 1874 leaving Francisco to raise the children. Prior to the American Civil War Chavez served as a soldier in campaigns against the Navajo and after the war broke out Chavez was made a Major in the Union Army. When the famous Kit Carson was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Chavez was promoted to Lt Colonel.
Not only was Chavez Pass named after Lt Col Chavez but so was a nearby mountain (Chavez Mountain) and lake (Chavez Lake) which is dry most of the time today. During the late 19th century a rugged but direct travel route had been previously used by Chavez and today that route passes through Chavez Pass. Chavez was assigned to escort the new territorial governor, John Goodwin, to Prescott, Arizona which was then the territorial capital of the Arizona Territory. This route was originally a Hopi trail that stretched all the way from the Hopi Mesas in Northeastern Arizona to the Verde Valley and some think it might have even extended down into Mexico where the Aztecs lived.
The Hopi trail originated at what is today called “Sunset Pass” ( or Crossing) which is located between two mountains south of Winslow, Arizona. It then entered into Chavez Pass as it came to be known.
Around 1064–1067 AD the Sinagua had their lives interrupted by a giant volcanic explosion. Sunset Crater erupted repeatedly during this time sending ash, cinders, and lava 800 square miles outward in all directions. For the next two centuries it continued to erupt periodically. The Sinagua abandoned the region prior to the eruptions but moved back into the region afterwards. They formed ties with other people of the area including the Mogollon, Hohokam, Anasazi, Patayan, and perhaps even the peoples of Mesoamerica (Aztecs and Mayans along with the Toltecs).
So I plan to visit the ruins and area this summer and will share with you here what we find.