One of a kind. It's a phrase you will hear frequently when learning about Montezuma Well.
Though an out-of-the-way unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument, the Well has features and mysteries found nowhere else in the world. And admission is free.
Why is the water always 74 degrees? Scientists don't know. What is the source of the deep water vents that feed the well? Scientists don't know. Currently we have only educated speculation.
Because of its unique environment, it is home to an abundancewildlife, including four creatures found only at the Well. You'll may see mud turtles swimming about in the algae, but only night brings out leeches, amphipods and water scorpions. What doesn't live in the well is fish.
More than 1.5 million gallons of water flows into the Well every day. A cave at the southeast end of the Well draws out the water and runs it 300 feet underground until it emerges in an irrigation ditch constructed 1,000 years ago by the Sinaguan people, who used the water to cultivate their fields.
The ditch, briefly bordering Beaver Creek, takes the water about a half-mile away to what is today a verdant picnic area and then on toward the modern community of Rimrock.
The irrigation ditch itself proves the resourcefulness and wisdom of those who dwelled in the area a millennium ago. They worked hard as farmers, raising corn, squash and beans.
Why the Sinagua left the Well, and the rest of the Verde Valley, around 1400 A.D. remains a mystery.
Today, the Well remains sacred to the Yavapai, Hopi and other native peoples. It is also a scientific treasure trove for ecologists, archaeologists and anthropologists alike.
Besides sections of the ditch, signs of an ancient village dot the landscape. There are cliff dwellings within the 70-foot walls of the cavern. There are also pueblo ruins above, set back from the rim. Diving expeditions in the well have uncovered many artifacts of the ancient civilization.
One of the earliest published sketches of the well came from Dr. Edward Palmer, a surgeon at Fort Verde, in 1866. In 1947, the National Park Service acquired the Well to be part of Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is 11 miles south.
A half-mile loop trail has been created from the parking lot to the rim and down to the ditch and back again. There are two spurs off the trail. The longer and more physically demanding takes the visitor down switchback steps to the water's edge and to the swallet. The other spur also briefly includes steps and leads to the tree-lined outlet beside Beaver Creek. That is a cool, serene spot, sometimes up to 20 degrees cooler than the rim.
Montezuma Well includes the picnic area as well as an ancient Hohokam pit house ruin. There is a contact station at the trailhead that is infrequently manned because there is no admission fee. However, pamphlets and maps are readily available there.
There are pit toilets beside the parking lot and fancier flush toilets at the picnic area.
To reach Montezuma Well, take Interstate 17 north of Camp Verde to the McGuireville exit (293), which becomes Beaver Creek Road. Stay on Beaver Creek Road through the unincorporated communities of McGuireville and Rimrock for four miles and follow the signs to the entrance.
Gates are open daily except Christmas Day. June-August hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and September-May hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rangers from Montezuma Castle occasionally conduct special events at the Well, including night programs.