For the amazing wealth of Native American antiquities and cultural relics in the Verde Valley, the average resident tends to be often naïve of many of their locations or existence.
There are clearly dramatic examples close to roadways that attract the most attention, such as Montezuma Castle or Tuzigoot, but other examples of the existence of thousands of earliest Americans settlers go (unnoticed). They are often off the beaten track, behind fences or difficult climbs.
Many residents, aware of the mixed cultures of the Yavapai and Apache, have lived for years in the Verde without seeing and enjoying those stone riches, mainly protected by National Forests and Parks or by private agencies such as the Nature Conservancy or even on private land.
Several attempts to break down the lack of perceptions are in fledgling stages.
Most observers are drawn to the dramatic towering cluster apartments that have been built of stacked stone in cliff faces, such as Montezuma Castle or those in Sedona or on open hills, such as Tuzigoot
The Southern Sinagua that inhabited the Verde Valley were builders and left behind towering stone ruins that have become national landmarks.
There are actually so many of the structures that only a small number have been excavated and displayed.
But a little footwork and research will show you the ingenious irrigation waterways, ball courts and other features of the productive habitation.
Peter Pilles, the first and long-time archeologist on the Coconino Forest, has made a significant contribution to the understanding of the Indian cultures of Northern Arizona and to some degree has rewritten the book on culture between 1100 and 1300 AD.
He has proposed an on-the-ground tour of what he calls the “Sinagua Circle,” a name he has given to the area bounded by three Verde Valley waterways: the Verde River to the southwest, Clear Creek to the east and Beaver Creek to the north and west. It is a zone, he says, that is important to the livelihood of the Sinagua.
Pilles maintains that the Beaver Creek waterway was critical to the culture. The waterway provided water not only for food, but also to develop crafts, art and architecture and trade.
The pre-historic sites and ruins are a remarkably regular 1.8 to 2.2 miles apart and include Montezuma Castle and Well, the irrigation canals associated with the Well, the V Bar V Ranch petroglyph site and the Red Tank Draw petroglyphs and the Bell Trail petroglyphs, Tuzigoot, Sugarloaf Ruins in Lower Oak Creek and Bridgeport and numerous other smaller or untold structure.
While the great stone structures are the most dramatic, around Stoneman Lake northern style pit houses were found, among the earliest Sinaguan structures. Lower in the Verde there were also found Hohokam pit houses, the Indian group usually found further south of the Verde Valley.
Pilles notes in “Sinagua” is Spanish for “without water.” That was more true of the Northern Sinaguan, but the Southern Sinagua were attracted to the comparative wealth of water below the Mogollon Rim. Pilles tells us that the grouping stretched from Perkinsville in the west to the East Verde in the south and between the Mogollon Rim and the Black Hills. This group was formed in two zones, the pinyon-juniper in the uplands around Sedona and the Verde Lowlands of grasslands and creosote flats.
There are numerous documented surveys and excavations.
Jesse Walter Fewkes excavated Honanki and Palatki west of Sedona between 1895 and 1911.
As part of the Antiquities Act, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 dedicated Montezuma Castle among the nation’s first National Monuments along with Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and El Morro, another Anasazi habitation and petroglyph site in New Mexico.
In 1977 Paul and Suzanne Fish of the University of Arizona conducted the first overview and assessment of the Verde Valley.
Paul Fish returned later for an excavation of a ruin in Perkinsville.
Pilles pays tribute to the numerous Verde Valley avocational archeologists that have assisted in the excavation and documentation of numerous sites around Sedona and Crescent Moon Ranch and elsewhere, also including Yavapai sites, such as roasting pits.
Volunteers also assisted with the grant-funded stabilization of Honanki, during which a number of rare “perishables” were found, such as fragments of woven baskets.
Everything comes full-circle and with the culture of the Verde Valley that recognition continues to bloom.
A center was established in Camp Verde to recognize the various cultures that lived here across time. These are more opportunities for the present locals to understand the past.