How the Ancient Puebloans Lived Large in the Grand Canyon Even Though Water Was Scarce

ancient Puebloans
the Grand Canyon

Enjoying September at the Grand Canyon

Stare at this view. With a backpack full of food and a water bottle handy, we had the privilege of doing this for as long as we wanted without worrying about how we would survive. Gazing across the Grand Canyon, we let our minds wander about how it might be to live there.

We wondered how the trees could root around to find enough water to turn even the spiniest needles green. But suppose we had to depend on this view to house, clothe, and shelter us?

That thought made us grateful for the stores and modern conveniences we enjoy today without considering how they got there and continue to exist. Indeed, with the coming of the ubiquitous Amazon online grocery stores, the rumor is that we will soon be able to buy everything we need from Amazon and in some locations enjoy a two-hour delivery time. Humans today may never have to leave their homes to even gather food.

But that was not the case for these ancient desert dwellers.

Ancient Puebloans
Tusayan Museum and Ruin

Visit the Tusayan Museum and Ruin

This easy paved path to the museum and through the Tusayan Village or gathering loop makes a beautiful walk through the park. Yet it was very unlike what the natives must have faced living here day after day.  Merely lining a path with the abundant decorative rock, makes it a thing of beauty. During the days of habitation, though, it is doubtful that so much greenery and stones would be used only to beautify the environment as it is today.

Ancient Puebloans
The Gathering Loop

The Gathering Loop Where the Early Puebloans Shopped

Like the sign says, it’s only a .01 mile loop shopping center. What could you do with a yucca and a pinyon pine? There was not a lot of variety here to provide needed items for food, clothing, and shelter.

The daytime weather in September might not warrant a need for many clothes. The temperatures soared into the high seventies by mid-afternoon. By night they ancient Puebloans might have needed at least a blanket. They might make a basket out of pine needles, but a pine blanket would be somewhat scratchy and not very cozy.

To make baskets out of pine needles requires that you soak them in water overnight first to make them pliable enough to bend, twist, and weave into a basket. We did not see an abundance of water springing out of the ground at this site. So we wondered how they made baskets.

Ancient Puebloans
a daisy inches off the path

Possible Food

Off the trail, a few inches this beautiful daisy grew amid some sparse grasses. Probably you could eat the daisy, but it would not be very filling. You might weave the stems into a basket, but the petals would not last. Maybe the pollen would attract bees, and you could harvest the honey for food. The dead tree might be useful to create some shoes or better yet, digging tools. There might be some tasty bugs living on the decaying wood. The grasses might be soft enough to weave into some light-weight summer clothing or a blanket. Small sizes only!

ancient puebloans
Along the Gathering Loop

Caring for Trees

Walking along the path, you see more fallen logs and branches. We learned that they did use wood in their buildings for ladders and frames for the rocks which they piled together to build walls. If they wanted windows, wood frames were essential. One guide told us that in the days of habitation there would not have been this many trees along the path. Shopping would have been more limited than it is today.

Possibly, however, the trees were in better shape because the ancient people harvested from them and cared for them. The oak trees in Central California were undoubtedly more prolific and better cared for during the time with the Yokuts Indians inhabited the rich Southern San Joaquin Valley. Since they harvested the acorns for making flour, the native people took better care of the trees, and no doubt saved some of the acorns to plant more trees.

Ancient puebloans
the Living Quarters

Ancient Puebloan Housing

Here you can see the foundation of their houses. Possibly in the middle circle, there was a place for a fire. You can imagine how the Puebloans would use every small scrap of wood.

The rectangular shapes of the stones look perfect for stacking. Don’t you wonder how they transported them to their housing sites? Were there plenty of rocks in one area, so they built several homes here, or did they have to scavenge the flatland and carry their stones to the homesites. Possibly the remodeled and added to the rocks that had been built by an earlier inhabitant that had moved on or died out.

ancient puebloans
the Living Quarters

Here you see how nicely the stones stacked. They might have held them together with dirt mixed with urine to make the mud. Apparently, that made a durable cement. In the foreground, you see what we would use as ornamental flowers in our yards. I wonder what gems these tiny yellow flowers held for the native desert dwellers.

ancient puebloans
rocks and daisy

Appreciating Subsistence

As you can tell, subsistence in this location would be difficult. They might have gathered insects that swarmed out from under the rocks when they dug them out. Flowers and grasses would not have sustained them for very long. Maybe the kids ate rocks like the children in the book Stone Soup or my brother when he was young. More likely they used the rocks to kill or wound larger animals which would have provided more adequate clothing, blankets, and food.

ancient puebloans
finishing the Gathering Loop

It did not take long to complete the .01 mile loop. You can imagine that it took several days for park workers to create this beautiful path that only takes visitors minutes to amble around. Yet, as they walked along the way, what thoughts do you think filtered through their minds? No one talked much, so it’s hard to say.

What’s your impression?

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