Many years ago my younger brother and a friend of his explored a cave in Northern Arizona. They came back with stories of how they kept walking and walking through the cave which was more like a tunnel than a cave. As things ended up they explored this “tunnel” several times over the course of a few years and in talking to local people including some Navajos in the area they were told that the “tunnel” runs all the way to the Grand Canyon which is about 130 miles away.
That the locals including some Navajos told my brother and his friend that this “tunnel” ran for such a long distance all the way to the Grand Canyon was amazing enough but, frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to his story at the time. Then, years later a friend of mine was investigating the same cave/tunnel and the locals including some Navajo told him the same thing! He described the cave as being more of a tunnel. He also said the cave was mostly a dry cave but there were water sources along the way! My friend was of the opinion that this tunnel was used long ago by Native Americans to travel back and forth from the entrance (which is very small btw) to the Grand Canyon and back.
That peaked my interest and a few years later I decided to have a look for myself. The tunnel was everything both my brother and friend said it was to my amazement! And yes it did look more like a tunnel than a typical cave and although it was mostly dry there were indeed water sources along the way! I also talked to some of the locals including some of the Navajos in the area and was told the same thing, that is, it ran all the way to the Grand Canyon about 130 miles away! But I was more persistent than my brother and friend and a few of the Navajos told me that their ancestors used the cave to go back and forth from the opening to the Grand Canyon using it mostly as a trade route and escape route from the Apaches. In exploring the cave we did not find any artifacts although I assumed there would be a few if it truly was once used by the Navajo ancestors. But we found nothing.
About 10 years or so after this in 1991 the local newspaper in Flagstaff, Arizona (The Arizona Daily Sun) ran an article on April 27 entitled “Ancient Chambers Span Across Northern Arizona.” That caught my eye immediately as Flagstaff is not far from where we had explored the tunnel/cave!
According to the article three young archaeologists had come to Northern Arizona and discovered a HUGE complex of “catacombs” that could rewrite theories about Native Americans in the southwestern US. The area they explored is about 2 miles west of Springerville, Arizona and they were hired to explore the area for the town which wanted to build a recreation area. The reason Springerville hired these archaeologists to explore the area before building the recreation site was because many people in the community suspected there was “something underground” at the location! And what the archaeologists found proved indeed there was!!
The archaeologists discovered a HUGE complex of catacombs under the ground at the site which they described as “mind-numbing.” One of the archaeologists by the name of John W. Hohman said, “It’s absolutely mind-numbing. We would have never believed it could have existed.” He made this statement to a meeting of 2000 members of the Society of American Archaeology. He went on to say, “It will change a lot of what we believed about Indians in the Southwest. They may have been FAR MORE ADVANCED than we believed.” Hohman’s announcement at the SAA meeting was heralded as a “first” Dr. James Schoenwetter a professor of Anthropology as Arizona State University said, “The idea of a very elaborate form of ceremonial chamber being built underground hundreds of years ago is surprising.” Notice is characterized it as a “ceremonial chamber” which is what they always classify something as that they can’t explain or shouldn’t be there but is!!
Native Americans in the Southwest were thought not to have built underground chambers up until this find. Hohman and his team believe the catacombs were between 700-800 years old. They were, in fact, discovered at a KNOWN site used by prehistoric Native Americans specifically the Mongollons who lived in the area between 1250 AD to 1400 AD. Hohman told the Flagstaff newspaper, “When we entered the catacombs though, it just blew us away!”
Apparently, there were multiple hidden entrances to the catacombs that varied from the size of modern doorways to small crawl spaces. I might note here that the tunnel explored by me, my brother, and friends was a small crawl spaces opening but inside the tunnel was larger and we could almost stand fully upright in it. WE were also told that there were “several” entrances to this tunnel but we only found the one.
Hohman and his team found 3-4 acres of catacombs ranging from small chambers to huge rooms with some being 50-100 feet long! The team consisted of Hohman, Diane White, and Chris Adams. Apparently, today the area is open to the public but not the catacombs. The rec area is known as “Casa Malpais.” This site represents one of the largest and most complex ancient Mongollon settlements in the nation, according to Hohman.
Casa Malpais Archaeological Park is located just west of Spingerville, Arizona. It features an astronomical calendar, a large kiva, stairways, and some rock art. There is also a museum there. The address is 418 East Main Street. It is open from 8 am to 4 pm and admission is free. Tours are also offered on site for a fee. Another feature of the site is Tether Rock which was used by the Mongollon to tether their hunting birds.
The Casa Malpais site was first explored by the anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing in 1883. He called it a “fissure pueblo” because it’s situated atop a large basalt lava flow. The site officially opened to the public in 1993.
The name “Casa Malpais” means “House of the Badlands.” The site was given its name by Basque sheepherders who were among the first settlers in the area. They gave the site this name because there was very little vegetation in the area.
It is becoming apparent that prehistoric Native Americans were more advanced than we thought and this is significant. Anyone who has been to the Chaco Canyon ruins in New Mexico leaves in awe! The ruins at Springerville are also awe inspiring as are many others. This site along with the tunnel site we explored gets me to wondering about other sites such as the often reported catacombs near the Grand Canyon which were reported widely in the early part of the last century. I also wonder about reported catacombs in the Death Valley area among others. Obviously, we are missing something BIG in terms of ancient Native America cultures and I think it is time to change our perspective on these cultures and realize just how significant they were and still are. Frankly, there are many sites in the Americas that rival those found in ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt! It’s time we give these sites due credit and their cultures due recognition on the same scale!!
Casa Malpais Archaeological Park: http://www.casamalpais.org/historic-information.html
Report on Flagstaff newspaper article from 1991: http://frontiers-of-anthropology.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html