Moving from scattered, small villages into a large 100-room pueblo was one way that the ancestral Puebloan people adapted to a series of droughts from A.D. 1215 through 1299, during the Pueblo IV period. Puerco Pueblo is located near the Puerco River, a major drainage that bisects the park. The river would have been a more reliable source of water for crops than the reduced summer rains. Farming of corn, beans, and squash was moved to the floodplains and terraces along the river.
At its largest size around A.D. 1300, Puerco Pueblo may have been home to about 200 people within 100-125 rooms. The one-story high village of sandstone blocks was built around a rectangular plaza. Without doors or windows in the exterior walls of the pueblo, entry into the village was by ladders over the exterior wall and across the log, brush, and mud roofs of the room blocks.
Rooms around the plaza were used for storage and as living quarters. Within the plaza, three underground, rectangular kivas have been identified. The unusual shape of the kivas indicates strong Mogollon influence from the south.
A unique feature at Puerco Pueblo is best viewed in late June, around the time of the summer solstice. Petroglyphs (images carved into a rock surface) and pictographs (images painted onto a rock surface) throughout the Southwest have been found to mark astronomical events during the year, such as the summer solstice, winter solstice, and both spring and fall equinoxes. One such petroglyph can be easily viewed at Puerco Pueblo. For about two weeks around June 21, an interaction of light and shadow passes across the rings of this small, circular design as the sun rises.
Climate throughout the Southwest began to change in the late 1300s. Rainfall increased during the winter months, rather than being distributed throughout the spring and summer as it had been in pre-drought conditions. Summer rain was concentrated in short, violent thunderstorms. Erosion began to remove the terraces and floodplains farmed along the Puerco River. Without steady summer rains, crops could not be grown elsewhere.
Unable to adapt to the climate change of the late 1300s, the inhabitants of Puerco Pueblo systematically abandoned the pueblo around A.D. 1380 in search of a more suitable area. Only the sandstone bricks, potsherds, stone tools, petroglyphs, and other artifacts and features remain to tell the tale of these ancient people.
Would you like to visit Puerco Pueblo? The Puerco Pueblo Trail is accessed at the south end of the Puerco Pueblo parking lot. This 0.3 mile loop trail is mostly paved as it runs through the pueblo and to views of petroglyphs.
Did You Know?
Standing on the edge of a vast badlands landscape, a Spanish explorer is rumored to have named the area "El Desierto Pintado" (The Painted Desert) because the hills looked like they were painted with the colors of the sunset.