Thanksgiving Vacation Inspiration

For Thanksgiving this year we went to Sedona, AZ. I had always thought it was just a resort town, so I didn’t really know that Sedona is known for a number of things:

  1. New Age tomfoolery
  2. Hiking trails
  3. A number of Native American sites in the surrounding area
The chiquitos are more likely to be of extraterrestrial origin
The New Age tomfoolery isn’t so much interesting (except maybe from an urban fantasy perspective). However the country around Sedona is absolutely breathtaking and inspirational.

While we didn’t get to spend nearly as much time as I would have liked exploring, we did get out to Palatki to see the ruins there. Palatki is known for having a couple of cliff-dwellings (mostly crumbling) as well as a grotto with pictographs and petroglyphs. Just seeing it is a humbling reminder that for every ancient civilization that GMs and game designers write about, there are real world examples often right under our noses, stretching back thousands of years. That shit’s real.

Cliffs near Palatki. Every butte or cliff in Sedona needs a fortress on it.

The dwellings at Palatki are built right up against sheer cliffs, with overhangs that protect them from the elements (which is one of the reasons that they are still there). These were two-story structures, sometimes three or more. The Sinagua (not the actual name of the people) did not utilize the wheel, have a system of writing (that we know of) or use metal implements. They were still able to build some pretty impressive dwellings. What’s really clever about them is that by building them along the cliff-face, they eliminated the need to build one entire wall.

First floor dwelling entrance
Second story of dwelling

Additional dwellings along cliff

The two dwellings were strategically placed on either side of an area where rainfall ran off the cliffs above, creating a huge waterfall. The guide said that when there’s heavy rain, there are multiple spectacular waterfalls – they were more than likely the source of the settlement’s fresh water.

On top of that, the site contains a grotto that has preserved some pictographs – some of them dating back to the “archaic” period of prehistory, at least 5000 years ago. There aren’t many identifiable symbols – a lot of them are very abstract, although I was able to spot a number of animals. A couple, such as the weird alien-looking humanoids are thought to be depictions of shaman or a Sinagua girl (they put buns in their hair when they reached the age of majority, hence the horn-like protrusions. There are also multiple culture’s pictographs crammed into the grotto – ranging from the prehistoric, to the Sinagua’s art, to later comers such as the Apache.

Animals and Sinagua girl

The black markings such as the ladder and horse figure are most certainly Apache, because the Sinagua didn’t have horses

In addition, there’s a good likelihood that they used various markings for more than ceremonial or decorative purposes. One pictograph depicts mountain peaks with black triangles underneath certain portions. Those peaks just happen to line up with the shadow cast by the cliffs across the valley – and the black triangles align with the position of the sun at different points during the year. Another shows what appear to be waterfalls coming from the cliffs. Who knows what that was supposed to represent – maybe part of a map?

Anyway, all of this real life stuff has given me some inspiration for a potential fantasy setting. It’s not Native American-inspired, per se– I’m not sure that I could do it justice without in some way being offensive. But I know that I want to aim for that overall time period in human history, or at least a fantasy analog. I have a few ideas bouncing around, I’ll just have to see how the seeds of inspiration grow out of them.

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