Sunday, April 3, 2016

Who Was This Martha Person, Anyway?

From a distance, Martha's Butte doesn't seem like much. Reddish-brown earth and rocks angling upwards to a cap of a few squarish boulders. Not terribly high, not terribly big. Rather a ho-hum landmark at first glance; you wouldn't think of it as a hiking destination in Petrified Forest National Park. After all, there are plenty of multi-colored, striped moonscapes that offer a much more immediate sense of "hey, let's go there!" than Martha's Butte. But alas, here we were again, on our third hike in less than three months at this fascinating national park (see Hike 1 and Hike 2). And again, like Hike 1, we were led by our intrepid guides Gary and Connie, along with a few other curious hikers.

There it is. Martha's Butte.

What was the allure, you say? Well, it just so happens that this particular area is loaded, I mean really loaded, with petroglyphs and other remnants of prehistoric human life. Certain types of petroglyphs I've never seen, like cradleboards for one, and images of Kokopelli for another. Kokopelli, despite being an over-marketed symbol of "all things southwest" (almost on a par with the bandana-wearing howling coyote), was a culturally significant deity image for both the Anasazi and, later, the Hopi peoples (among possibly others). I found this website, that indicates the name Kokopelli means "wooden-backed" (koko = wood, pilau = humped in Hopi); so he was the hump-backed flute player and symbol of fertility, replenishment, music, dance, and mischief. Familiar depictions of Kokopelli are generally based upon Hopi art, which was, in turn, derived from Anasazi glyphs. My husband remarked that while he had seen numerous images of Kokopelli in both serious art and kitschy tourist figurines, he had never seen actual petroglyphs of this prankster, storyteller, and healer before. And after I thought about it, I hadn't either.

As we started on the walk, though, the conversation wasn't about Kokopelli, it was about Martha. Why was Martha's Butte named Martha's Butte, and who was Martha? Well, after months and months of volunteering at Petrified, researching its history and name places, and exploring hither and yon, neither Gary nor Connie were ever able to find out the origin of Martha. Google seems to agree--a cursory search turned up nothing of substance. Martha, I guess, will remain a mystery.

It was soon after reaching Martha's Butte, though, that our attention turned to what we were seeing while encircling it. The origins of Martha forgotten, we were surrounded by petroglyphs--here, there, and seemingly everywhere. Spirals, bear paw prints, animals, hands, heads, entire bodies, birds and bird tracks, geometric images, and more than one Kokopelli. It was, to put it bluntly, astounding.

Husband's paw against a bear paw etching

The musically-talented prankster fertility god,

The hike wasn't done, though. We kept on keeping on, veering away from Martha's Butte, around a few other prominent hills, and into a canyon. More petroglyphs and potsherds abounded.

Clearly, another Kokopelli...similar, but different,
than above

 And a few images of the potsherds strewn about:

Well, I may never know who Martha was, but if she was a real person who spent some time wandering around her namesake butte, she would've been pretty lucky. Maybe always wondering about Martha was a little gift from our wooden-humped flute-playing prankster.


  1. You saw all of those on one hike? I saw a few in Utah and the images haunted my thoughts for a long time.

  2. I know. It was almost too much to absorb in one visit. The psychological connection let alone the visuals... Humbling and awe-inspiring.

  3. Makes me want to go! Thanks for the inspiration.