Agua Fria National Monument

Written by on April 2, 2015 in AZ History & Heritage - Comments Off on Agua Fria National Monument

It is a unique feeling to think that the last person to see a metate (grinding slab) and mano (hand-held rock grinder) still sitting in the metate, was possibly the Native American woman who last used it more than 700 years ago. If you haven’t experienced the thrill of this kind of discovery, then you should spend some time at Agua Fria National Monument.
agua-fria national monument
Agua Fria National Monument, created by Presidential proclamation on January 11, 2000 is one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest. With more than 400 archeological sites, spanning 2,000 years of human history, this is an incredible place to visit. These sites have lain undisturbed for hundreds, even thousands of years and have not been restored like Mesa Verde or Canyon de Chelly.

The earliest ancient people to the area were seasonal travelers who hunted game and gathered wild plants. In A.D. 700, the Hohokam Indians established small villages on the mesas surrounding the Agua Fria River. In A.D. 1,100, more Hohokam left the central valleys of Arizona and moved to the surrounding Perry and Black Mesas. Archeologists estimate that nearly 3,000 Hohokam lived in the area at it’s height. By A.D. 1,500, the Hohokam had abandoned all the sites.

The Hohokam people were some of the most skilled desert agriculturalists. Using only simple tools like sharp wooden digging sticks and handheld hoes made from rocks, the Hohokam grew crops in the low-lying valleys along the Agua Fria River, as well as cultivated plants on the mesas above. Staples of their diet included corn, beans, squash, blossoms, dry seeds and agaves. Visitors to Agua Fria National Monument can still see where Agave was cultivated. Just look for the tall Agave masts growing out of the piles of boulders that dot the mesa tops. Near any one of these piles, you are likely to find petroglyphs carved on boulders dotting the area.

Petroglyphs abound in unexpected places all over the national monument. There are several 200-foot stretches of cliffs that are covered with rock art, including one very rare image that archeologists believe depicts a supernova in the night sky. Big horn sheep, deer and human figures are prominent features at the rock art sites. Throughout the site, boulders, walls, rock outcrops and more are decorated with a profusion of art. Just start walking and you are likely to discover something.

The largest settlement is Pueblo la Plata, consisting of 80 to 120 rooms, but all 400 sites were in close contact. Archeologists tested and found truth to the theory that hilltop structures acted as a means of communication with all the sites on the plateau, keeping them in close contact by relaying information and warnings by smoke signals during the day and fire signals at night. In addition, the sites were closely tied together through trade in painted pottery, tools, food and other items.

The rough and rocky terrain that exists across most of the national monument is a result of volcanic explosions. Joe’s Hill is all that remains of the volcano that covered the region in rock, pumice and ash. To say that the rocky terrain makes hiking difficult may be an understatement, so be very careful to watch where you walk at all times and stout hiking boots are a good idea — a turned ankle is very likely on the rocky terrain.

For the adventurous and sturdy hiker, almost anywhere you travel on the mesas and in the Agua Fria River valley and surrounding washes and streams, you will find indications of the former inhabitants. And remember to look for the Agave plantations where you will almost certainly find rock art. The pueblo dwellings tend to perch on the benches above the high water level, along narrow canyons and on the canyon rims.

Because the site is a bit remote, you may be one of the few people in the world to have seen it and that’s an amazing feeling! Please leave the sites as you find them so someone else can feel the same thrill of discovery that you will have at Agua Fria National Monument.

Note from the writer: I met a park ranger at Aqua Fria National Monument who told me that they are encouraging people to come hike the area. The park is hoping to establish a system of hiking trails and are hoping for adventurers like you to help them create it!

Agua Fria National Monument
Located 40 miles north of Phoenix on I-17 (Badger Springs and Bloody Basin exits)
For more information call Bureau of Land Management Phoenix Field Office at (623) 580-5500

It is a federal offense to remove any artifacts from ancient Native American sites on public land and is punishable by fines and prison.

Other attractions in the area include:
Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well
Sedona Red Rocks

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