Working as archaeologist on the Kaibab National Forest for more than three decades, an important part of my job was to interpret the Forest’s history for the public. One of my favorite places to do so was at the Keyhole Sink Interpretive Petroglyph site. The trailhead is about a 25 minute drive from Flagstaff west to the Oak Hill Parking lot nestled between the communities of Pittman Valley and Parks. Once at the trail head it is only a 0.6 mile hike to visit the keyhole-shaped lava flow where the ancestors of many of our tribal neighbors left their stories etched in lava flow’s walls.
While it is often difficult to understand the meaning of the petroglyphs, one seems to depict a hunting scene where about a dozen zoomorphic figures (animals) heading towards the keyhole shaped natural trap. Other petroglyphs designs of lizards, bear paws, deer, a garter snake, and an Arizona tree frog seem to tell the story of the animals that still live at and visit Keyhole Sink today. If you hike there in the early spring, you may even see a thunderous waterfall created by snowmelt from Sitgreaves Mountain.
If you visit Keyhole Sink, make sure you pick up an interpretive brochure just inside the trailhead gate. As you hike, see if you can find the five numbered stations where you can learn about how the trail’s densely wooded Forest was once a grassland 100 years ago, and what is being done to restore its ecosystem. Visit the Kaibab National Forest’s Keyhole Sink web page for more details and directions.
Remember, when out in the forest, take only pictures and leave only footprints. The petroglyphs at Keyhole Sink are fragile traces of the past and are protected by several federal laws. If you encounter artifacts such as fragments of pottery or stone tools, please leave them in place and only take pictures. We want future visitors to enjoy the thrill of discovery in this magical outdoor classroom.
Post written and shared by Board Member Neil Weintraub