Connecting you to the world
one story at a time

Protecting Pottery and the Past

“Watch out for snakes,” my husband advises me as we make our way down the overgrown path through the wilderness of a Northern Arizona mesa. “I know, I know,” I reply, knowing that he’d be more comfortable out in front, watching for rattlers, but too excited to let him lead. I’ve driven past the sign for Agua Fria National Monument at least a hundred times in my life during trips to mountainous Flagstaff, Arizona from the desert landscape of Phoenix. Now that I’ve finally taken the time to stop and explore the area, I find that Agua Fria is a middle ground between these two places—not unbearably hot in the summer, like Phoenix, but not likely to receive snowfall, like Flagstaff. It is, I decide, the perfect place for a pre-air conditioning culture to live.

Agua Fria National Monument protects nearly 500 ancient Native American homes within four distinct settlements. Between about 1250 and 1450, the high desert landscape was divided by dozens of well-worn footpaths leading to neatly-built stone homes with tiny entrances that reflected the small stature of the Pueblo who lived here. Later, the Pueblo people abandoned them, leaving behind jars, pots, utensils, and household tools. Today, items like these are precious, studied by experts, treasured by local tribes, or housed behind glass in museums to inspire gawking middle schoolers on field trips. Sadly, however, most of these clues to ancient history have been lost due to natural factors as well as centuries of looting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Ruin with a View

“Is that it?” My husband points up the path at a pile of rocks that stands out against the undulating yellowed grass. I squint, trying to force my nearsighted eyes to focus. “I think so! Come on!” We’ve been hiking through the monument for some time, but we both find a new burst of energy now that we’ve discovered the treasure at the end of the trail. Happily, we climb out of the long grass onto the mound of large rocks, which suggests walls and rooms. “Wow. Can you imagine having this view?” I breathe. We look out over the high desert’s muted rainbow of colors: yellow grass, green and orange scrub, purple shadows, the deep vermillion of the canyon walls, and the bright blue of the Southwestern sky. A rabbit flashes through our view for a split second before disappearing again into the virgin undergrowth. Between the stones of the crumbled pueblo, we can see shards of pottery. I bend down and gather a few of the broken pieces in my hands. Together, we admire the variety and craftsmanship of the designs, faded black patterns barely visible against the Sedona-red clay. A few shards of white pottery created far away, whisper lost tales of friendship and trade.

Whenever I find these shattered pieces of art, I am tempted to take them home. Just one, or maybe two. Would anybody miss them? However, I can always hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head. “If you took one, and everybody who came here took one, do you think there would be any left?” My childhood excursions to ancient sites came with strict rules about stealing these vestiges of the past. We always left pottery and arrowheads where we found them, hoping that future visitors would be just as respectful. These memories rush back to me in the present, and I carefully replace the pottery shards, setting them gently on the prehistoric stones for the next visitor to enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leaving Artifacts is the Law

Leaving ancient Native American artifacts alone isn’t just good form. It’s also the law. Anything located on public land belongs to that monument or preserve. Defacing or removing artifacts can land you a year in prison and a $10,000 fine—and if you cause any damage, that goes up to five years in prison and up to $100,000 in restoration costs. Arizona’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has specific guidelines to help the public, private organizations, and archeological experts preserve these sites. Sometimes, this means burying the site in place to protect it while using the land above it for modern purposes. Other times, it means excavating the site and studying items of historical value. Any Native American tribes with a connection to the ruins are consulted and have decisive power over what happens to objects removed from the site.

While SHPO and its associates work hard to respect and preserve the past, the same cannot always be said of individuals. Despite the ready availability of authentic Native crafts created by modern tribal members, unscrupulous art aficionados still turn to thievery. It only takes one looter to steal centuries of history and destroy the potential to unlock ancient mysteries. Although the most accessible pueblos are carefully curated by the state and the National Parks Service, many unsecured sites have been drained of artifacts.

Wupatki photo by Breana Johnson
Wupatki photo by Breana Johnson

Finding Secret Desert Sites

Fortunately for serious history lovers, the best-hidden ruins still hold their ancient treasures. To discourage thieves, there’s an unwritten code that keeps hikers from spilling the location of petroglyphs and pueblos, so you won’t find a map online. If you’d like to see some of the better-preserved remote sites, your best chance is striking off into the desert yourself with whatever clues you can convince locals to whisper.

We step back on the path and pause for a moment, breathing in the fresh air and feeling thankful to be out of the smog of the city. A lizard skitters across a stone in the jumble of volcanic rocks. It hides beneath one of the larger shards of pottery. How many generations of lizards have made this place their home since the human inhabitants left? I look out over the dusty landscape, searching the dry grass for dark spots and the canyon walls for shadows of windows and doorways. I know there are hundreds of pueblos out there, but my untrained eye can’t spot them. I smile at my husband and we strike off again into the tall grass, hoping to find more traces of a long-lost world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Arizona State Parks




Shiloh, Mississippi monument. Photo: Kathleen Walls

Civil War History at a Crossroads

Can you imagine a piece of real estate, not more than a few square feet, worth the loss of over 30,000 lives? That is the case in Corinth, Mississippi, where two railroads cross. The Civil War placed this small Mississippi town in the crossroads of his…

Read more »
A digital nomads work space

Becoming a Digital Nomad

I’ve always dreamt of constantly traveling the world, supporting myself without ever having to go home. When I was a child, this seemed impossible; the only people I knew about who traveled for extended periods were explorers, which didn’t seem a viabl…

Read more »
Licin woman

Locals of Licin, East Java

The sleepy village of Licin is situated in the Banyuwangi regency of East Java, Indonesia. It’s a 30-minute drive from the town of Banyuwangi – Java’s easternmost tip – and an hour from the slopes of Kawah Ijen, the legendary volcano famous for its ele…

Read more »
Bath, England on the river.

Amazing UK World Heritage Sites

The United Kingdom is a country with a long and varied history, so it’s no surprise that it has a significant number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Most travelers heading to the UK usually visit only a few token destinations outside of London, so they…

Read more »
George Washington statute located in Boston, Mass.

East Coast History Road Trip

Benjamin Franklin gestured dramatically toward the moldering gravestone of the Revolutionary War soldier. “And then,” he proclaimed, pausing for effect, “He killed ‘im dead!” Twelve adults and a handful of children stared at him wide-eyed as he finishe…

Read more »

Visiting Panama’s Embera People

Our wooden longboat plied the Chagres River deeper and deeper into the Panamanian rain forest. Soon the boatmen, one wearing a loincloth and the other a beaded skirt, were poling us through channels so narrow that it looked like the river had disappear…

Read more »
Volungearing photo by Bianca Caruana

Volungearing: A New Way to Do Good

A new kind of volunteer tourism has entered the travel industry with an innovative approach; Volungearing, conceived by TribesForGOOD, taps an individual’s skills to pair him or her successfully in the social impact sector. This concept gives well-mean…

Read more »
Exterior of the Royal Bathouse in Tbilsi. Photo: Sarah May Grunwald

Visiting Tbilisi’s Natural Baths

The Georgian capital Tbilisi’s name derives from a word that means warm place. The word applies to both the glorious sulfur baths on which the city was founded, as well as the generosity and warmth of the Georgian people.  A trip to the baths allows vi…

Read more »

Slovakia: Five Places to Visit

With spectacular mountains good for hiking and bicycling, dramatic castles, charming architectural cities, and a vibrant contemporary arts scene, Slovakia has much to offer tourists. Often overlooked by tourists for its neighboring countries or a desti…

Read more »
The narrow alley in the Souk des Ferronniers, in the Marrakech medina is lined with lamps and other crafts.

A Visit to the Marrakech Medina

The reddish-pink ramparts around the Marrakech medina enclose a thousand years of history. The Almoravids, a confederation of Berber tribes, conquered North Africa and Muslim Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries and established Marrakech as their capit…

Read more »
Women on the World

The Women Making Tourism Powerful

Celebrate International Women’s Day by supporting women around the globe through unique tourism experiences that benefit women’s empowerment and travel with female-led groups. International Women’s Day is honored annually on March 8th to celebrate the…

Read more »
A black Rhino's horn is the object of illegal poaching.

Trophy Hunting in Zimbabwe

I knew very little about the black rhino when I first arrived in Africa. In fact, I knew next to nothing about African wildlife in general and even less about the impact of hunting in Zimbabwe. After three years guiding on the continent, black rhino po…

Read more »
Taipei, Taiwan

Five Reasons to Visit Taipei

When planning a trip to Asia, not many people consider Taiwan as part of their itinerary. But this small island off the coast of China has a lot going for it, in particular, the capital city Taipei. For a relatively small capital city – it has a popula…

Read more »
Philip of Macedon fountain in Skopje's main square.

Macedonia: Five Places to Visit

The Balkan countries in southeastern Europe are popular places to travel right now. Croatia has long had a reputation for being a top beach destination but now more travelers are waking up to the fact that the whole area has much to offer, from majesti…

Read more »
Aerial view of Niagara Falls with a Maiden of the Mist boat.

Exploring Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls, one of America’s most scenic wonders, wasn’t always a pristine park open to the public. Comprised of three waterfalls that straddle the U.S.-Canadian border, the falls have a long history; not all of it pretty. Industrial factories once…

Read more »
Capt. Tucker and Hercules. Photo: Kathleen Walls

Cajun Culture in Lafayette Parish

In Southern Louisiana, French Canadian migrants settled and intermingled with the existing community to create a unique ethnic group, the Cajuns, whose culture continues to thrive today. Visitors can learn more about the Cajuns through a visit to Lafay…

Read more »
View of Lake Chelan. Photo: Eliza Amon

No Roads Lead to Stehekin

Tucked in the rugged North Cascade Mountains near the Canadian border, is a town unreachable except by ferry, foot or flight. Remote as Stehekin is, the Washington town is a hub for nature lovers looking to hike, kayak, ride horses or fish in a nationa…

Read more »

Cycling in Uzbekistan

In many ways Uzbekistan is a fantastic country to cycle through – the friendly hospitality, exotic culture, stunning architecture and, of course, the excitement of exploring faraway lands, well away from the beaten tourist trail. Tashkent Mosque. Uzbek…

Read more »
Burundi village

A Burundian Lesson in Hospitality

It’s evening in the small African nation of Burundi, and the waning sun throws shadows over the city of Bujumbura. In the old Land Rover, we bump and jostle our way through the crowded dirt roads of the capital. Before we left the mission station where…

Read more »
Statue honoring the underground railroad along the Riverwalk in Detroit.

Heartbeat of Detroit

I didn’t know a single thing about Detroit when I moved here a year ago. Most people plan where they want to move but when your spouse is in medical school, you don’t always have the luxury of choice or time. The sudden relocation to the city was a sur…

Read more »

Three Stops on the Trail of Tears

The rich culture and heritage of the Cherokee people and the story of their forced removal from their homeland is sometimes lost amid undifferentiated accounts of indigenous people in the United States. Three stops along the Georgia section of the Trai…

Read more »
Amazon River at night

Adventures on the Amazon

I stepped back into the dark brown muck and leaned on the tree behind me to get a better photo of the anaconda slithering in my direction. I was motionless for a mere two seconds when Ericson Pinedo, our local naturalist, jerked me back by my arm and q…

Read more »