Tusayan Ruins


visiting the Grand Canyon at the end of January proves an understandably more subdued experience than making a trip in the height of the summer tourist season. off the main track on the road to the eastern entrance to the park, it’s a bit hard to imagine more than a handful of people exploring the Tusayan ruins on a given day during the peak of the year. that said, I am thankful we took the 20-odd mile trek to find it before heading back to Vegas.

storage rooms

people have inhabited the Colorado Plateau for thousands of years, first as hunter/gatherers, and later in established settlements, like Tusayan or those at Mesa Verde, as subsistence agriculture became the norm. people constructed this pueblo site around 1185 C.E., based on tree-ring data. at any time during the twenty years in which the site was inhabited, somewhere between 16 and 25 individuals lived in the pueblo. the excavated ruins consists of a series of living chambers, storage rooms, and a kiva. down the hill from the structure, a small parcel of farm land has also been identified. compared to the farms near which we live, it’s interesting to consider how a community of nearly two dozen people could subsist on a plot of that size, supplementing their diets with gathered plants and what animals they could hunt or trap.

evidence on the site suggests that a small, timber-construction kiva burned down and was replaced at some point with a much larger, stone one in the southeast corner of the compound. used for ceremonial activities, both kivas are larger than any other room in the complex. it’s large enough to for the entire community to gather comfortably, perhaps when colder winter weather kept them inside and the living quarters (really only large enough for sleeping) might prove a bit to close for comfort. the kiva ruins have a bench lining about half of the interior of the structure, with posts set into them to help support the roof of the kiva. entrance to the kiva was via a ladder that descended through a main hole in the roof; early kivas were often located underground, but by the time the Tusayan kivas were constructed, kivas were becoming more elaborate and were more likely to be constructed above-ground.

ruins of the larger kiva

there is no clear evidence as to why the inhabitants of this pueblo abandoned it after only twenty years, though it may have had something to do with conflict with other people nearby. charred timber ruins at other once-inhabited sites around the Colorado Plateau suggest that fighting among bands of people in the region was likely common. whatever the reason, Tusayan was largely left alone until the early 20th century, as tourism to the Grand Canyon became more popular. in 1928, a “trailside museum” sponsored by Laura Spelman Rockefeller (wife to John D. Rockefeller) in the style of a Hopi structure was erected to introduce tourists to the site. two years later, a group from the Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation of Globe, Arizona (founded by a New York stockbroker) began investigating and excavating the site further. preservation took place in 1948 and again in 1965, and the government placed the site on its National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.