Sears Kay Ruins, Echoes of an Ancient Civilization

Written by on September 22, 2014 in AZ History & Heritage - Comments Off on Sears Kay Ruins, Echoes of an Ancient Civilization

On a windswept ridge, high above a dry streambed, a small band of Hohokam Indians built a community, now known as the Sears-Kay Ruin. Around 1050 AD, these ancient people erected five buildings — with 40 rooms — in which they ate, slept, had children and watched the horizon for almost 150 years. The view from their front “terrace” is one of the most beautiful in Arizona. The panoramic scenery includes Four Peaks, Weaver’s Needle, the Superstition Mountains, Red Mountain, Pinnacle Peak, the blue jewel of Bartlett Lake, and miles and miles of nearly pristine Sonoran Desert.

Archeologists are not sure where the first Hohokam came from or what their real tribal name was — their antecedents have been lost to time. What is known is that the Hohokam people were ancestors of today’s Pima Indians. Best estimates are that nearly 100 people lived and worked in the windy hilltop community at Sears-Kay.

The Hohokam people were some of the most skilled desert agriculturalists. Their talents included building amazing irrigation systems and a network of canals that spanned the Salt and Gila Rivers. Using only simple tools like sharp wooden digging sticks and handheld hoes made from rock slabs, the Hohokam grew crops in the frequently dry streambeds below Sears-Kay and throughout the central valleys in Arizona. The staple of their diet was corn, but also included beans, squash, blossoms, dry seeds and agave. Cotton was grown for both food (the seeds can be ground and formed into cakes) and clothing.

Sears-Kay is a place you must experience for yourself and the U.S. Forest Service has created a hiking trail to help you get there. From the paved parking area and nearby information center, the trail climbs to the top of the ridge — a half-mile hike to the summit and the ruins. Even for those in good shape, it is a bit of a workout. However, informational signs along the way, provide the perfect reason to stop and catch your breathe — and so does the view.

The informational signs build a strong picture of the daily life of these hardy people … how they built the ruins, how they cultivated the land, their daily activities and many other details that bring these people, for a brief time, into focus for the visitor.

Once atop the ridge, walking among the tumbled walls, you can easily imagine the fort-like structure these ancient Native Americans created. It is easy to envision the courtyard and terrace area where the community worked and played, as well as the walls that must have served a defensive purpose. The defensive walls offer an explanation as to why the Hohokam chose to build their community at this lofty height, as does the 360-degree view of the surrounding territory, which must have afforded ample warning of approaching enemies.

Wander for a time through the echoes of days past, then continue along the trail as it climbs down the far side of the ridge and loops back to the parking area. Winding down the steep hill, the trail passes next to an enormous oblong boulder, carefully balanced on its end. This significant landmark must surely have been a trail marker for travelers and a signpost of home for the Hohokam people who once lived there.

During the summer months, the temperature in the Sonoran Desert is nearly always in the triple digits. If you hike in the summer, go early and take plenty of water. Also keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, during early mornings and late evenings.

In the winter months, carry plenty of water with you. The humidity in the Sonoran Desert is often below 10% and you can quickly become dehydrated.

There is no charge to visit Sears-Kay Ruin. For more information, contact the Cave Creek Ranger District, 40202 Cave Creek Road, Scottsdale, AZ, 85262, Phone: 480-595-3300.

Other attractions in the area include:
Top 10 Things to do in Phoenix, Arizona
Desert Botanical Garden
Deer Valley Rock Art Center

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