Homolovi Ruins State Park to Reopen

[By Lee Allen, Indian Country Today]

Photo courtesy Ellen Bilbrey/Arizona State Parks

It’s been a tough year for the 28 sites within the Arizona State Parks system, particularly for the Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, responsible for protecting and safeguarding the 4,000-acre cultural and religious site.

The park, originally home to the Hisat’sinom (the “long-ago people,” better known as the Anasazi of the 14th century), and closed since February because of statewide fiscal problems, is now in the final planning phase and about ready to announce a specific reopening date, expected soon.

“For over half a century, we have thrived as a department, but Arizona State Parks was not immune to the bumpy ride through our Great Recession during Fiscal Year 2009 – a year of significant change,” said its executive director, Renee Bahl.

Homolovi was one of 13 state parks forced to padlock its gates after the Arizona legislature, in response to a massive deficit, ordered a sweep of millions of dollars from conservation funds such as state parks gate fees. “These sweeps are catastrophic to the agency and will eliminate any hope of us operating the system,” said Parks Board Chairman Reese Woodling.

Anticipating some sort of belt tightening, the parks folks had already shut down camping and RV sites in October 2009, shortly before the Special Legislative Session officially ordered the money grab in mid-December. By February 2010, a phased series of park closures was started with Homolovi Ruins one of the first to close to the public.

Homolovi, a Hopi word meaning “place of the little hills,” features a cluster of some 300 archaeological sites including several separate pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric peoples from 1250 – 1400 A.D. The park serves as a center of research for tribal migration of that time period and while archaeologists study the area and confer with the Hopi to unravel area history, Arizona State Parks provided an opportunity for visitors to personally experience two of the seven ruins.

Most visited is the largest, Homolovi II, an excavated site with about 1,200 rooms, 40 kivas or underground ceremonial chambers, clusters of pit houses, and three large plazas. Petroglyphs can be found along certain sections of the nearby Tsu’vo trail.

Many of the early peoples paused their migrations to stay awhile in these high grasslands and find a home along the Little Colorado River, tilling the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join peoples already living on the mesas, peoples known today as the Hopi.

The migrations ended when the people settled at the center-of-the-world, the Hopi Mesas north of the park. Today’s Hopi tribal members, referred to as the world’s greatest dry farmers, still consider Homolovi and other Southwestern pre-Columbian sites to be part of their homeland and make pilgrimages to the locations to renew ties with the people of the land.

As new people, like the Diné, and later, Europeans, arrived, the Hopi watched as ancient dwellings in their homeland were destroyed through digging into sacred sites for curios and souvenirs to sell. Finally, in an effort to protect what was left, the Hopi people supported the idea of Homolovi Ruins State Park, established in 1986 and opened in 1993 – until operating budget funding disappeared and “Closed. Do Not Enter” signs showed up.

While the state remains deeply mired in red ink with no clear-cut direction on how to balance its budget, the Hopi Tribal Council, in a 12-0 vote in October, approved a resolution to reopen the park as part of an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State Parks Board to operate and maintain the park.

“The park would be operated by the State Parks Department for 12 months with an option to renew the agreement for two additional one-year periods,” according to the Arizona Department of Tourism. “The tribe will provide $175,000 to subsidize park operations and State Parks gets to retain fees collected from visitors.”

“When the park closed, the Hopi people became worried that once again pot hunters could start desecrating our ancient homelands,” said Hopi Land Team member and tribal council representative Cedric Kuwaninvaya, Sipaulovi. “Now, in partnership with park representatives, the City of Winslow, and others, we can again protect and preserve our ancient homelands and share our cultural heritage.”

According to the timetable, the wheelchair-accessible Visitor Center will be open daily, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The center offers a museum of Hopi pottery, carvings, and other art forms and exhibits explaining the archaeology of Homolovi’s ancient peoples and a gift shop of books and artwork operated by the Arizona Archaeological Society. The park also maintains a collection of artifacts returned from elsewhere in the Winslow area, items such as prehistoric pottery wares, stone and bone tools.

If the event returns to the schedule in July 2011, the annual Suvoyuki Days will take on a special significance. Suvoyuki, translated in the Hopi language means “to accomplish work through a joint effort,” celebrating partners who protect and save the area’s archaeological and cultural sites from destruction, a success admirably demonstrated in the reopening effort.

“We took some hard hits, but we will persevere through this fiscally turbulent time and reemerge as bright as ever,” Bahl said.