The Horsecollar Ruin Site is a major attraction at Natural Bridges, and one of the best-preserved ancestral Puebloan sites in the area. Named because the doorways to two structures resemble horsecollars, the site was abandoned more than 700 years ago. Its remarkable state of preservation, including an undisturbed kiva with the original roof and interior, is likely due to the isolation of Natural Bridges: few visitors ever made the journey down these canyons.
The Horsecollar Site was discovered by non-Indians in the late 1880's. In 1907, an archeological expedition documented the site and later recommended the establishment of Natural Bridges National Monument (which was founded the next year). Sometime thereafter, Horsecollar Ruin seems to have been forgotten. One cold November day in 1936, it was rediscovered by Zeke Johnson, the first curator of the Monument. He wrote:
The roof of the kiva has not been restored and reveals construction techniques used by the ancestral Puebloans. Large roof beams were overlain by smaller branches, then by reeds and thin sticks. This mesh was then covered by a generous layer of mud-plaster. A ladder once protruded from a hole in the roof but has been removed for safekeeping and to prevent curious visitors from climbing inside and causing damage to the structure. Through cracks in the walls, the original fire pit is visible near the center of the kiva. In front of this is an upright slab of rock which prevented air currents from blowing out the fire. Toward the rear wall is a small hole called a "Sipapu." In Hopi religion, the Sipapu is the gateway through which one's spirit enters and leaves this world.
The round "Horsecollar" ruins are also much as Zeke Johnson first saw them. No one knows the exact purpose of these unusual structures. Why are they so perfectly round, and why did their builders not use the back of the alcove as a wall and save themselves a great deal of work? Were they ever roofed? If not, why bother constructing plaster floors? Were they used for storage? If so, why were fires lit inside them? If you come up with a good answer to these puzzles, please note it in the register book or share it with a ranger.
Did You Know?
Prospector Cass Hite first named the bridges "President," "Senator" and "Congressman." While later explorers gave them other names, the General Land Office assigned the Hopi names "Sipapu," "Kachina" and "Owachomo" in 1909.