A trip to the Southwest would be incomplete without a visit to some of the area’s historic Native American sites. In the Verde Valley, there are several imposing Indian ruins, including two national monuments. These archeological treasures shed light on the Sinaguan culture that reached its heyday in the area between 1150 A.D. and 1400 A.D.
Charming Tuzigoot Pueblo in Clarkdale, Arizona
Perched atop a 120-foot ridge in Clarkdale, Arizona, sits a small but charming terraced pueblo with a spectacular view of the surrounding area. To the east is Tavasci Marsh; to the West the Black Hills, home to the mining town of Jerome.
The pueblo dates back 1,000 years, when the first rooms were built. Over several generations the pueblo grew, until at its apex it encompassed 110 rooms, some two and three stories high. Tuzigoot was abandoned when the Sinaguan Indians mysteriously disappeared from the Verde Valley.
Today only the walls remain from the ground-floor dwellings, but the National Park Service has resurrected one of the two-story limestone structures so visitors can admire the Sinaguan building techniques. A staircase goes to the roof, which offers breathtaking panoramic views.
In addition to the pueblo, Tuzigoot features two short (1/3-mile each) trails that describe the site’s cultural and natural history. More information about this national monument is available at the visitor center.
The Best Preserved Cliff Dwelling in North America
Montezuma Castle, in Camp Verde, Arizona, is widely believed to be the best-preserved cliff dwelling in North America. The five-story, 20-room structure is built into a natural recess in a limestone cliff, 100 feet above ground. Amazingly, its interior is almost completely intact—even though it was built more than 800 years ago. Public access ended in 1951 because of structural damage by visitors and safety concerns.
An excellent exterior view is available from the paved, flat trail, which makes a loop from the visitor center. It goes past the cliff dwelling and an adjacent ruin—a six-story, 45-room structure destroyed by a fire in the late 1400s. The path is shaded by sycamore, walnut and mesquite trees, and Beaver Creek skirts the site.
Visitors can learn more about Montezuma Castle from displays at the visitor center and the narrated cutaway model of the castle along the path, which reconstructs daily Sinaguan life.
Just 11 miles away from Montezuma Castle is Montezuma Well, also part of the Montezuma Castle National Monument. This geological marvel is a spring-fed, funnel-shaped limestone sink that is 368 feet across. An ancient Hohokam pit house is also on site.
The Red Cliffs of Palatki
On the outskirts of Sedona, Arizona, is the picturesque Palatki (“red house”) heritage site in Red Rock Canyon. Nestled in the site’s red cliffs are remnants of dwellings and a granary, and ceremonial alcoves with abundant rock art. Some of the pictographs (painted images) date back 12,000 years and predate Palatki’s Sinaguan settlers. Images feature abstract symbols as well as colored animal and human forms, including a reclining Lalenhoya, the humpbacked Hopi flute player.
In the 1920s Charles Willard discovered Palatki and decided to homestead on the site. He planted an orchard with 2,000 trees (a handful of which still stand) and built a home, which is today’s visitor center. While the house was under construction, Willard lived for two years in an alcove on the property.
Secluded Honanki Indian Ruin
A few miles west of Palatki, off a bumpy, unpaved road, are the well-preserved remains of a large Sinaguan pueblo called Honanki or “Bear House.” These cliff-dwelling ruins were home to three separate Native American cultures (Sinagua, Yavapai and Apache) over a period of seven centuries. Some of the dwellings were three-stories high.
Above the ruins are numerous pictographs. Some predate the cliff dwellings by several thousand years. Honanki is believed to have been one of the largest Sinaguan communities in the Verde Valley before it was abandoned around 1300 A.D.
Rock Art at the V-Bar-V Heritage Site
The V-Bar-V Heritage site, by the banks of Wet Beaver Creek, has more than 1,000 petroglyphs of human, animal and geometric shapes. It is the largest petroglyph (chiseled-image) site in the area.
Most of the images date back to the Sinaguan Indian heyday in the Verde Valley. The petroglyphs are inscribed on four flat, lichen-coated panels that have been surprisingly undisturbed over the years, perhaps because the site was a secluded part of a privately owned ranch for many years.
In addition to the rock art, the V-Bar-V heritage site has a few remnants from its more recent ranching history. There is a visitor’s center on the site.
Year-round Access at Arizona’s Native American Sites
All five of these Native American heritage sites are available for viewing year-round, although each has its own schedule. Most offer guided tours.
Visiting hours are posted online, and directions are available at local visitor centers maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and area chambers of commerce. There are nominal entrance fees.