Further along the Ancestral path

Northern Arizona has proven to be more of a social trip for me than expected. Seeing, or scheduled to see friends, and spending time in areas not far from metro areas.

In a way, it would be similar to traveling along I25 or I70 in Colorado: Not terribly remote and not far from anyone. But lots of interesting sites to see and explore.

In this case, I am not exploring mountains along the busy interstates. I am seeing ancestral places nestled in pockets of wilderness or  set aside in national monuments.

The history buff in me has enjoyed it quite a bit. Seeing places I’ve read about in the past. And if the interstate is not far away, I am able to find some free camping with views that I can’t complain about.

In the Agua Fria National Monument

Before leaving on the second leg of history exploration, I did casual hike with Andy around the Granite Dells in Prescott.

Some unusual rock formations that reminded me a bit of the Lost Creek area not far from where I usually call home.

After enjoying some hospitality, I headed out. We made plans to meet up again in Scottsdale in a few days where Karin and Andy would be calling home for the winter.

The first stop was the Tuzigoot National Monument that was settled by the Sinagua. Situated along the Rio Verde, then as now, the dwellings are located in a lush agricultural area.

I then took a short drive to see Montezuma Castle National Monument.

At the time of the early significant excavations of many of these ancestral dwellings, the Aztec and Inca were in vogue. And early archeologists made the connection from these southwest dwellings to the ones located further south.  And that is why we have Aztec National Monument, Cortez near Mesa Verde, and these Montezuma named national monuments among others.  Incorrect the assumptions may have been, easy to see why early archaeologists may have leaped to conclusions.

Montezuma Castle

I went further along and went to see the Montezuma Well. A lush spring with cliff dwellings. After my recent desert sojourn, I certainly could appreciate what this large spring meant in the otherwise arid area.

Cool in the summer and warm in the mild Arizona winter, the place would have been a pleasant place to live.

1880s graffiti trying to drum up business for a local photographer

The site even featured an irrigation ditch  still in use by local farmers down from the spring itself.

The stonework is new. The irrigation ditch is original.

Below the well was a lush area full of old sycamore trees that gave much shade on a very sunny day.

After this excursion, it was time to find some camping for the night. I did some primitive camping in the Agua Fria National Monument. A place with two major (marked) ancestral sites. And chock full of many others.  I visited the two marked sites. A third was not far from me, but I had conflicting directions to get there up some rutted jeep tracks. Perhaps some other time.

What I saw was intriguing, however.


Potsherds. The black and white shard is probably from pottery that came from further north.

I’ve been keeping my compass handy on these excursions. These ancestral dwellings were almost always in a North-South alignment with prominent features along the axis. Important for agricultural people who based planting on set astronomical cycles.  This old dwelling was no exception.

Even in our drier times, the Agua Fria still had pockets of water. It is no surprise I’ve found many of these dwellings along I-17.  The interstate was built near towns located near water. And these towns are located near the dwellings of hundreds of years ago or more. Our 21st-century life intermingling with the places of past generations.

I camped in the same place later that evening. And again enjoyed my relative solitude only an hour away from one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

A quick hike through a riparian habitat in the morning introduced me to one of the local inhabitants of the area.

One last stop before I saw my friends in Scottsdale.  I went to the Hohokam site at the Pueblo Grande Museum not far from the Phoenix Airport.  There are other sites more remote and have more of a wilderness feel. But this place is perhaps the most well-known and  maybe the historic center of the region. Over 40,000 people lived here at one point.

Reconstructed dwelling.

The Hohokam were known for their trade with Mesoamerica, an extensive irrigation and canal system along the Salt River in what is now Phoenix, and their cotton growth.   Drought conditions, mixed with floods, and refugees from further north help contribute to the Hohokam civilization collapsing.  Any parallels with current conditions are strictly coincidental. Of course.

Excavated ballcourt. This area was mainly farmland up until ~1990s.

I will see Karin and Andy again. And meeting up with other people later.

But it is soon time to get to places a bit more remote.  We’ll see what comes up next.

All the photos.

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