Photo by Nolan Madden
Hidden Cove Petroglyph Park tour guide Michael O’Dell (left) has helped preserve the archaeological and historical value of the park’s rock carvings since he helped discover them 30 years ago, even naming the park’s etched mascot (pictured above) “Cliff the Glyph.” He was on hand last week for the first installation phase of new walking and biking trails at the park, which began Nov. 17 and is slated to be completed next month.
By Nolan Madden
Three years ago, the City of Holbrook applied for a state parks conservation grant in hopes of improving the grounds and preserving the fixed relics Hidden Cove Petroglyph Park.
That goal became a reality last week, as environmental firm American Conservation Experience of Flagstaff broke ground on its installation of 8,500 feet of sustainable recreation trails throughout the park.
One of the park’s living fixtures, resident tour guide Michael O’Dell, helped to establish the area more than three decades ago, and is still active today. He relates his connection and history with the recreation area.
“I’ve been involved with this site since the city discovered this place. I’ve been with the city for 36 years, and have been involved with this site since 1980, so that’s why, by default, I’ve been the guy who does the tours.”
O’Dell says the new trails are the first to be professionally developed since the park opened.
“I used to work for the Holbrook Wastewater Department, and this land was originally obtained for the purpose of reusing reclaimed wastewater. The first time we came out here, there were no fields, there were no roads. We actually drove cross-country style surveying where the fields would go. That was when we saw that there were petroglyphs here, and I’ve been promoting them ever since then,” he recalls.
O’Dell relates that he and city crews first developed the site into a recreation area by planting trees, and in the 1990s they installed the protective sun awnings in the park’s picnic area.
“What we had before now was just what we had put in here. Today is a milestone, because the trails are actually going in and the grant is being implemented. This is all a dream come true for me. I may not have had such a long career with the city if it weren’t for this park. It’s given me a lot to be happy about, so this has been an amazing project for me,” says O’Dell.
“What’s been amazing to me is talking to tourists who’ve visited all the Four Corners states and all the big petroglyph sites. Many of them say that our petroglyphs are more artistically done than some of the others they’ve seen.”
City of Holbrook Community Development Director Kathleen Smith noted that binocular stations will be permanently mounted along the trails to preserve the integrity of the glyphs, and that the park will reopen to the general public with at least one volunteer park ranger on the premises at all times. For visitor safety and preservation of the carvings, guided tours will route outside the newly protected areas.
O’Dell notes, “What people don’t realize is that they aren’t even supposed to touch the inscriptions. Lotions, sunscreens and oils on the hands can affect the images because of the age and brittle composition of the rock,” which is prone to erosion.
Most of the petroglyphs are 1,000 years old, O’Dell says, and darken in color as they age in a process called patination. According to University of Arizona Field School archaeological excavation expert Darlene Brinkerhoff, who has studied the etchings, certain petroglyphs depicting animals can be up to 2,000 years old.
The city hopes that placing the trail boundaries, as well as permanent supervision throughout the park, will curb vandalism and unauthorized hunting, which have damaged the Hopi and Zuni Indian-crafted drawings over the years.
“One thing we’re having trouble with is people shooting firearms at the drawings. It’s one of our biggest problems. I can keep people from doing damage while I’m with them, but if they’re at a distance with high-caliber rifles, even from near the entry gates, I’m afraid they can still shoot them. I really think we should get the police or sheriff’s departments involved to help patrol the area; it’s way past due,” O’Dell says.
Noteworthy, too, is that the park is recognized as an important wildlife refuge as well, with bobcats, waterfowl and deer being spotted nesting and feeding among the cliffs, another reason O’Dell is emphatic about enforcing the restriction of hunting guns on park grounds. He says that according to the Audubon Society, which has surveyed the site, the park offers some of the best bird watching in Navajo County.
“What I’ve found out is how popular this place is, and I’m only just starting to get it because I’ve seen the response of tourists. Until you see their joy and their enthusiasm you don’t appreciate the potential this park has,” he says.