|Cacti in morning light|
Arizona's Verde Valley was home to many indigenous people thousands of years before any Europeans came to the area. One of the cultures thought to have occupied this valley from 700 to 1425 CE (Common Era) was a group of people archaeologists have termed the Southern Sinagua. The ruins of Sinagua dwellings can be found throughout the Verde Valley, and some of the more significant and well-preserved sites have been designated National Monuments.
Montezuma Well, a unit of the Montezuma Castle National Monument, was the first site we visited. A huge limestone sinkhole continuously filled by an underground spring, this lovely desert oasis was a logical place for native peoples to settle.
|Unusual steps to the well's bottom|
A short walk from the parking lot led us to the well's first overlook. What a sight it was! This large water body looked out of place in the middle of dry, scrubby desert. The sinkhole measured 386 feet in diameter. The water shone a lovely shade of blue in the early morning light. If I looked carefully, I could spot a few ancient cliff dwellings tucked below the rim. Wow - too cool!
|Can you see the cliff dwellings below the rim?|
A path and set of rocky steps led visitors to the well's shoreline. Down at the bottom were the remains of more dwellings. The rocky remnants of old walls were an interesting sight, as was the graffiti on the adjacent rock walls, dating back to 1891.
|How about now?|
Lisa told me not much aquatic life is found in the well due to the high amount of carbonation and arsenic in the water. Ancient Sinagua people used the water primarily to irrigate crops. Still, having a constant year-round water source and rocky walls for protection, Montezuma Well looked like a sweet place to settle.
|Remains of ancient rooms|
Lisa and Hans climbed out of the well, but I hung back for a few minutes to snap more photos. When visiting National Park areas I'm a stringent rule-follower, so as I climbed up to the rim I was surprised by a very grumpy lady ranger who read me the riot act, accusing me of stepping off the trail. I was pretty sure I hadn't strayed from the path, but Ms. ranger lady was being such a grouch, I didn't dare argue. Instead, I mumbled a quick apology and got the heck out of there.
The area above the well's rim had a short trail (that I made darn sure I stayed on!) leading visitors past more rocky remnants of pueblo homes and down to nearby Wet Beaver Creek. The well's outlet bubbled through a short chute (thought to be an ancient canal) into the creek. The creek area was a lovely place, lined with trees and grasses.
|Wet Beaver Creek|
Montezuma Well was interesting and unusual. I could've stayed there much longer, but there were other places on the day's agenda. Back at their truck, I asked Hans and Lisa if they knew of any petroglyphs in the area. Lisa exclaimed "Yes - V Bar V!"
|V Bar V Heritage Site|
Off we went down a dusty dirt road. While en-route, Lisa filled me in on our next destination. V Bar V Heritage Site houses the largest and best preserved petroglyphs in the Verde Valley. Once a working cattle ranch, it was purchased by the National Forest in 1994. Now open to the public, tours are offered to view this ancient rock art.
|Lovely blue skies!|
Not much remains of the original ranch. Walking to the visitor center, my friends and I passed the ranch house's elaborate chimney. A few weathered wood fences dotted the landscape but that was the only remaining evidence.
|The petroglyph wall|
At the visitor center, we met up with a very enthusiastic volunteer. Our timing was good as he was just gathering a group to take to the petroglyph wall.
|Lots of images!|
It wasn't a long walk to the petroglyphs, but our tour guide took his time, stopping frequently to tell stories about the history of the ranch and the ancient peoples who first settled in the valley. The information was all very interesting, but I was eager to see the rock art wall.
|I was mesmerized by it all|
Finally our guide led us to a locked gate. A chain link fence circled the petroglyph site, sadly to keep folks from vandalizing this important piece of history.
|I liked the eye|
Oh, was the wall amazing! Our guide said there were over 1,000 images carved into the rock panels. I'd never seen so many figures carved into rock. The wall was huge - spanning the face of a large red red cliff.
|So much to see!|
Our guide said these petroglyphs were created by the Sinagua people between 1150 and 1400 AD.
|These turtles were my favorite|
There were lots of figures that appeared to be animals; deer, coyote, turtle, snakes, coyotes. There were also other geometrics that looked like spirals and grids. One squiggly line was supposed to represent the Verde River. Our guide produced a Google map image of the Verde River, and the two nearly matched. Unbelievable!
|Our very enthusiastic guide|
Our group gazed in amazement. I enjoyed looking at all the different figures and trying to guess what stories the ancient Sinagua who created these images were trying to tell.
After allowing us several minutes to view the rock art to our heart's content, our guide gathered the group back together and began delving into more of the history of this sacred place.
|What does it all mean? We'll never know.|
Although it was all very interesting, Hans, Lisa and I had more sights to see, so after a few minutes we thanked the man and made our way back to the parking lot.
|Lisa taking it all in|
Of all the monuments I saw that day (stay tuned for my next blog post for the rest) I have to say that V Bar V was by far the most impressive. I'm so glad places like these have been preserved for all to enjoy and learn from.
Now......on to more ancient ruins! Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot, and the funky mining town of Jerome coming next.