Big Whisker Waterhole
HISTORY OF BIG WHISKER WATERHOLE
The waterhole is named after Big Whisker, Daghaa'nitsaahi, as he was one of the significant relatives that took care of this land in the late 1800s to mid-1900s.
From 1933 to 1942, The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) organized construction projects to help people recover from the Great Depression. During this time, CCC built two waterhole levies on the west side of White Mesa in northern Arizona, located on Route 21 N, between Tonalea and Kaibeto.
The waterhole was a significant water source for the families of the White Mesa area. It provided water for the local people, animals, wildlife in the area, and the migratory birds that travel through. In the 1950s, local people maintained the waterhole by re-digging the reservoir and keeping the dam in good condition. This history comes from the stories of the people of that era. From the 1960s to 2020, no one maintained the waterhole, and the reservoir filled back with sand. The water run-off from the mesa usually caught by the dam flowed over the sand-filled waterhole into the surrounding landscape. The well next to the reservoir is filled with mud from the water run-off.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, Patrick Scott, a local Diné artist, decided to take on the project to restore the waterhole, which is four hundred feet across and two thousand feet long. The depth of the reservoir is unknown. He started re-digging the waterhole with his personal 323 John Deere skid-steer. Every weekend, Patrick worked on the project from June to November 2020, digging 8 feet in depth, moving a few hundred tons of sand and clay to rebuild the dam.
The June 2021 monsoon season was the first time that the community of White Mesa ever saw the Big Whisker waterhole fill with water again. The reservoir once again provided water to the local animals and the wildlife of White Mesa through the whole summer.
Patrick and his wife Mary have self-funded the Big Whisker Waterhole restoration project with occasional monetary help from family members. Their funds have gone to maintaining the skid-steer (oil, grease, fuel, and maintenance) and purchasing highland grass seeds to replant in and around the waterhole. Patrick undertook this project as a volunteer service to help his community and for future generations to benefit.
FUTURE OF PROJECT
The restoration project is far from complete—more extensive equipment is needed to remove the sand altogether to the rock bottom, approximately 25-35 feet in depth.
The first goal of restoring the Big Whisker Waterhole is to make it a medicine sanctuary for our Navajo/Diné medicine people by bringing medicinal plants from northern Arizona that we use in our ceremonies and planting them there.
The second goal is to plant high desert grass to restore the soil to replenish the earth and make it fertile again.
The third goal is to restore the water well by digging the mud out of the water well. This part of the project entails dropping empty buckets, filling them with soil, and hoisting them back up.
The restoration of the Big Whisker Waterhole will provide water and plants for people and animals in the community.