With the Sonoran Desert in our rearview mirror, we settled in for a week in the Verde Valley at Cottonwood, midway between the cold high country and the desert floor of Arizona. Several small towns (Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale and Cottonwood, to name a few) in the valley have a quaint character and richness in history. The valley is named after the Verde River, which winds its way through those communities and provides all sorts of recreational opportunities including fishing, birding, wine tasting, history and outdoor activities. This was our second visit here, and this time we focused on three historic sites containing ancient ruins.
Like others we’ve visited, these ruins gave us a rare glimpse into the lives of human beings who lived in the valley under far different circumstances than those we enjoy today.
Ancient ruins can be found throughout Arizona, but some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings are here in Verde Valley. These ruins were left by Hohokam and Sinaguan natives, followed by Apaches and Yavapai Tribes, and finally by early European settlers. It’s believed that they flourished in the valley hundreds of years ago. Three of these ancient ruins are in close enough proximity to each other that they can be visited in one day.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Just up the road from our campsite in Cottonwood, the town of Clarkdale holds remnants of a Sinaguan pueblo built 800 years ago, known as Tuzigoot (meaning “crooked water” in Apache). Archaeologists have discovered the probable order in which Tuzigoot’s rooms were built, beginning as a small cluster lived in by some 50 people. The Sinagua were peaceful village dwellers who arrived in the valley about 900 AD, with an eventual community of over 200 residing there until about 1400.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Dating back to 1150, the “Castle A” dwellings hug a cliff 100′ above the ground and consist of an imposing five-story apartment-like building with about 45 rooms. A little bit further along the cliff is another five story 20-room dwelling dating to between 1100 and 1300. Historians believe Sinaguan farmers chose this spot due to the reliable water supply in nearby Beaver Creek.
While strolling along the trail we wondered what life may have been like here. It must have taken enormous effort just to get water from the creek up to the cliff. Imagine life with no electricity or running water, but what a view!
What we were not prepared for was how busy this monument would be, even at opening time on a Tuesday morning!
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the huge and clear waters at Montezuma Well, and its origins and history fascinated us. It was only recently in 2011 that its origins were confirmed. It is a naturally occurring spring in the middle of the desert, a result of the trickling of snowmelt water that came from the Mogollon Rim some 10,000 years ago. It has percolated slowly down through hundreds of feet of rock, draining drop by drop through the path of least resistance all the way to the well.
When the water reached the valley, it was obstructed by a vertical wall of volcanic basalt that forced it to the surface. As it was pushed upward it eroded an underground cavern which eventually collapsed and created the limestone sinkhole we saw.
The water is replenished with 5.7 million liters each day. The water level remains constant, as cracks on the side of the well allow it to flow through the outer wall.
Throughout the valley, pueblos and villages can be seen on cliffs, in caves and along the river. The land was farmed until about 1400, when all of the tribes vanished. There have been various reasons postulated as to the reason for the mass exodus, but no one knows for sure.
Below are links to other ancient cliff dwellings in Arizona we have visited:
Our home base was a return to Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, where convenient access to good trails was one of the reasons we returned. We tackled two hikes, the 8 mile Lime Kiln/Thumper Loop combination and the 8.4 mile Bones Trail Loop. Both were good moderate treks with lots of scenic views.
We were very happy that we crossed paths with Hans and Lisa during our stay, and they invited us on a hike in Sedona. They know a thing or two about scenic hikes in Sedona, and we enjoyed our last hike with them here a couple of years ago. Also along on this hike was their friend Linda from Portland, OR. Off we went on an 8.5 mile loop around Cathedral Rock for a fun, scenic and enjoyable hike!