Visit the Pueblo Indian Ruins of the Southwest

Written by on January 3, 2008 in AZ History & Heritage - Comments Off on Visit the Pueblo Indian Ruins of the Southwest

The Hohokam Indians first settled a long stretch of the Verde River in central Arizona and were later followed by the Sinagua Indians. The Sinagua are credited with the introduction of stone houses, either in cliff openings, or in freestanding pueblos — it is their dwellings you can see still standing today. Three of their major habitation sites — Tuzigoot, Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well — are within an hour drive of each other and make a terrific day trip if you are staying in Phoenix or its surrounding communities.

Tuzigoot National Monument
$5 entrance fee, open year around
Perched atop a small hill, the view from the Tuzigoot Pueblo is magnificent. Overlooking the Verde River with Mingus Mountain rising to the southwest, the Sinagua Indians had a commanding view of the surrounding area. No one knows if they built in this location due to the scenery or in order to keep a watch out for enemies.

The pueblo consists of 110 rooms (for 200 residents) including second and third story structures. The earliest rooms (erected in A.D. 1,000) are small, but as the dwelling grew, it sprawled down the hill and the rooms grew larger. The flat rooftops provided additional space for outdoor work and play and offered a terrific place to watch for visitors since Tuzigoot was not an isolated site. An entire community of pueblos stretched up and down the middle Verde River and its tributaries, which includes nearby Montezuma’s Castle.

Tuzigoot was so named by an Apache worker who looked out at the ragged shores of Peck’s Lake and called it “cooked water” or Tuzigoot, in his native tongue.

Montezuma’s Castle National Monument
$3 entrance fee, open year around
Perched high on a cliffside, Montezuma’s Castle overlooks Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River. The leaves of the towering and ancient sycamores rustle in the breezes and the burbling stream adds another note of almost mournful tranquility to this amazing bit historical site.

The Sinagua Indians constructed the dwelling around 900 years ago. The word Sinagua means “without water” in Spanish, since these Native Americans truly lived in an area that receives very little precipitation each year. Average rainfall at Montezuma’s Castle is roughly 8 inches per year.

Montezuma’s Castle probably housed around 35 people, but more than 200 lived up and down Beaver Creek. These farmers worked the floodplain fields and upland gardens capturing rainwater and snowmelt in irrigation ditches to water their crops. Water was also diverted from Montezuma’s Well using a clever system of irrigation channels carved from solid rock in many places. Montezuma’s Castle is well worth the visit as the visitor’s center has a terrific museum display and the self-guiding trail describes the culture and history of the area and its former dwellers. Park rangers are available on the trail and the frequently host talks that share insight into this breathtaking piece of history.

Montezuma Well
No entrance fee, open year around
Montezuma's Well
Just a few miles up the road from Montezuma’s Castle is Montezuma’s Well. This unique geologic formation is a limestone sink formed long ago by the collapse of an immense underground cavern – it looks like a large crater lake. Over one and a half million gallons of carbonated water a day bubble up into the sink and out into Beaver Creek and into irrigation ditches created by the Hohokam and Sinagua cultures. The water maintains a steady 76 degrees temperature throughout the year.

The continuous warm water supply provides a green oasis, a startling contrast to the surrounding desert grasslands. The well is home to species of plants and animals found nowhere else on the planet. This unique habitat is probably due to the large quantities of warm water that enter through underground springs, keeping the environment within the well very stable. Strangely, the well is actually much deeper than its muddy bottom indicates. The muddy bottom isn’t actually solid, but is a slurry of rock, sand and minerals suspended in the water. Experts have lowered camera down through this mixture and have found the well to be 15-20 feet deeper in places before hitting a solid bottom. Millions of leeches live in this slurry and come to the surface at night to feed.

Nestled into the walls and perched above on the rim of the sink are the cliff and pueblo dwellings of Hohokam and Sinagua Indians. The modern-day Yavapai Indians, as with many other Native American cultures, believe they entered into this world through cracks or holes in the earth, so the water that wells up in the sink is extremely precious to them. It was doubly so to the ancient people who lived here since it was the one completely reliable source of water in the area.

Take your time as you wander the 1-mile hiking trail and explore the pre-historic Sinaguan cliff dwellings, pueblo ruins, and the 1,000-year-old irrigation ditch that still in use by local residents today!

Other attractions in the area include:

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