03 Jun Tonto National Monument: On The Lookout For A Gila Monster
On my first day, we started on the trail to the Lower Cliff Dwelling (LCD) in the afternoon. I looked down to our feet, but the paved trail bounced back the Arizona heat to my face, making me even hotter. I asked my supervisor for a short break, looked up to see the dwelling, and noticed all the lizards throughout the trail on this peaceful day. The beautiful Roosevelt lake was behind us, holding boats in its turquoise waters, and I wished I knew how to swim and could jump into the lake for it to carry all my nervousness away.
The trail is half a mile and leads to the cliff dwelling shown on the right; it is open throughout the year to visitors. Despite being only half a mile long, the trail escalates a whopping 350 feet, making it a short but deceptive hike for many visitors, me included that first time. On my first day, I got to staff the LCD with Melinda, one of the Park Ranger Supervisors. She told me about the monument, and I learned more about the site, how to introduce visitors, and what to expect when staffing the LCD. She also emphasized the IMPORTANCE of notifying everyone through radio if we find a Gila monster in the park. Gila monsters are venomous black and orange lizards rarely seen throughout the park; only ten are within the monument’s boundaries. These lizards are the only venomous lizards native to the United States.
There are many types of cacti throughout the trail, including the saguaro cactus. On the right is what I like to call a baby saguaro; for it to grow, it needs a nursery tree to protect it from frost and sun damage. It takes five years for a saguaro to grow an inch, so this baby saguaro is not so much a baby after all! They can live up to 150-200 years, and some may live longer than that.
On my second day at Tonto, we went to the Upper Cliff Dwelling (UCD), which is usually open to visitors from November-April by reservation. There is an unexplored cave in the back of the Upper Cliff Dwelling, and this information kept me up all night wondering if it was used or not.
This summer, my partner gave me Bartholomew the dog to take photos of at every state sign and to have as a companion for the summer! He found out that there were javelina and deer bones in the cave. (A bone can be seen in the photo! Can you find it?)
The hike to the Upper Cliff Dwelling is a mile and a half with over 600 feet in elevation. I hiked the trail with two other interns and an archaeologist named Andrew, who told us about his experience with the site and his knowledge. The photo on the left showcases the view from a post hole, where wood was placed to create the roof and floor of the living areas in the alcove. Another roof’s remaining features are on the right, giving us a peek at what roofs would have looked like 700 years ago! The people who lived here before made mortar and adobe mixtures to create the buildings we see in the photos.
Archaeologists have named the material culture within the area Salado due to the Rio Salado that flows to the Roosevelt lake. However, we are not sure what the people of this land called themselves, and 14 indigenous communities have ancestral ties to the monument. We hesitate to call the ancestral people here Salado because that is not what they called themselves or what their descendants would want.
The photo on the left showcases the part of the museum that I will be curating. The case currently holds information on the Woodbury fire that occurred in 2019; it explains how firefighters protected the prehistoric wood, preserving the site. My current idea for the new exhibit is to ask the 14 indigenous communities with ancestral ties to the cliff dwelling what they would like to see in the museum. I want to get their input on what is missing and essential to teach visitors. I hope to work closely with the collaborating communities and am excited to see where our ideas will take us for the exhibit!
Below are three photos of cacti in the area. From left to right, they are named pincushion cactus, California barrel cactus, and saguaro cactus.