Verde Valley Archaeology Center
In 2010, the group of avocational archaeologists and volunteers created the Verde Valley Archaeology Center, located in downtown Camp Verde, in an effort to protect what was left of the valley’s ancient people. Their museum on Main Street displays and interprets artifacts from both public and private collections, and in doing so has helped to stem the flow of artifacts leaving the valley. The centers has an active research facility that assist archaeologists and government agencies throughout the area in identifying and cataloging artifacts. And they offer a number of programs throughout the year to help educate the public and instill an appreciation for the ancient cultures that have called the Verde Valley home.
Montezuma Castle National Monument features well-preserved cliff-dwellings. They were built and used by the Pre-Columbian Sinagua people, northern cousins of the Hohokam, around 700 AD. It was occupied from approximately 1125-1400 AD, and occupation peaked around 1300 AD. Several Hopi clans trace their roots to immigrants from the Montezuma Castle/Beaver Creek area. Clan members periodically return to their former homes for religious ceremonies. When European Americans discovered them in the 1860s, they named them for the Aztec emperor (of Mexico) Montezuma II, due to mistaken beliefs that the emperor had been connected to their construction. Neither part of the monument’s name is correct. The Sinaqua dwelling was abandoned 100 years before Montezuma was born and the Dwellings were not a castle. It was more like a “prehistoric high rise apartment complex”.
Montezuma Well, a detached unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument, is a natural limestone sinkhole near Rimrock, Arizona through which some 1,400,000 US gallons of water flow each day through two underground springs. It is located 11 miles (18 km) northeast of Montezuma Castle. The well measures in at 368 feet (112 m) across and 55 feet (17 m) deep. The water is highly carbonated and contains high levels of arsenic. At least five endemic species live (only) in the Well: a diatom, a springtail, a water scorpion, the amphipod, and the leech — the most endemic species in any spring in the Southwestern United States. It is also home to the Montezuma Well springsnail. Montezuma Well’s outflow has been used for irrigation since the 8th century. Part of a prehistoric canal is preserved at the picnic ground, and portions of the original Sinagua canal are still in use today.
Verde Salt Mine
The Verde Salt Mine played a key role in the life of the Verde Valley’s early inhabitants. Formed by sediments from an inland freshwater lake that existed between 10 and 2 million years ago, the Verde Salt Mine deposit has been mined since at least the first century. Both the Hohokam and Sinagua cultures used the salt as a trade item with cultures as far a way as Baja California, New Mexico and Mexico. The the deposit was mined commercially as late as the 1920′s and 1930′s. The U.S forest service is currently developing the mine as an interpretive site.
Clear Creek Ruins
Located on the south side of State Route 260, three miles east of the Verde River, Clear Creek Ruin is believed to have been the largest habitation site in the Verde Valley. Sitting atop a steep cliff overlooking West Clear Creek, the ruin consist of both cavates (hand carved caves) and a large pueblo complex. The site was proposed as a National Research Monument in 1933, but federal funding was unavailable.
Wingfield Mesa Ruin
Wingfield Mesa Ruin, first described by Army surgeon Dr. Edgar Mearns, is located south of Clear creek behind the Verde Lakes Subdivision. It is a unique site in that it is laid out like a stockade, 200 feet by 200 feet, single story, with a center courtyard. Nearly every other ruin in the Verde Valley was constructed of individual rooms built atop and adjacent to one another. It is also the ruin in which the mysterious Camp Verde Meteorite was discovered.
The array of caves across the Verde River from the Beasley Flat Day Use Area is known to archaeologists as the Mindeleff Cavate Lodge Group. It is named after Cosmos Mindeleff, a young surveyor and architectural draftsman who recorded the site on his seminal 1891-92 survey of ruins along the Verde River. The site consists of 98 cavates (hand carved caves) and 367 rooms.
Not far from V Bar V Heritage Site are the fallen remains of a 50 to 60 room pueblo with a classic Hohokam-style ball court at its base. There are three room blocks of about 20 rooms each on three corners of the butte, with the southwest corner exposed to form a plaza. The ball court, at the southeast base of the butte, is the last of the identified courts to be constructed in the Verde Valley. The ball court is difficult to identify since today it looks more like a depression caused by erosion. Sacred Mountain also has significant agricultural remains, including several cultivated agaves. The basin surrounding Sacred Mountain was surveyed by the University of Arizona.
V Bar V Heritage Site
The V-Bar-V petroglyph site is the largest known petroglyph site in the Verde Valley of central Arizona, and one of the best-preserved. The rock art site on the banks of Beaver Creek consists of 1,032 petroglyphs in 13 panels. In recent years, the work of local avocational archaeologist Ken Zoll has demonstrated that contained within the petroglyphs is also a solar calendar.
Palatki Heritage Site
Palatki was first documented by Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution in 1895 and again in 1911. A comparison to photos taken by Dr. Fewkes in 1895 show surprisingly little change. Archaeologists believe that construction of the Palatki cliff dwellings began about A.D. 1125 and that they were used by the Sinagua until about A.D. 1300. The cliff dwellings have two buildings, the east alcove and the west alcove. The West Alcove has been closed to the public for several years due to their condition. It consisted of about five rooms, including what may be a community room or kiva (ceremonial room). The East Alcove consists of five rooms on the first floor, with three rooms having a second story.
Honanki Heritage Site
Honanki, which means “bear house,” is believed to have been one of the largest Sinagua communities in the Verde Valley. The Pink Jeep Tours Company is the official site steward. A representative of the company is at the visitor kiosk for you to sign-in and to answer general questions. A Red Rock Pass is required for parking. There are no guides at the site. The Honanki ruins housed three separate cultures at different times in history. The Sinagua, Yavapai, and Apache Indians all resided in these ruins over the past seven centuries. The ruins are remarkably preserved and still an active archeological dig site. The red rock canyons became areas of intensive occupation with the construction of cliff dwellings. Honanki and Palatki are two of the largest and best preserved cliff dwellings in the Verde Valley. The Sinagua lived here from about A.D. 1100 to 1300. This period of Southern Sinagua prehistory is called the “Honanki Phase.” Honanki contains a more extensive set of ruins than Palatki. It represents one of the largest population centers in the Verde Valley. There were more than 60 ground floor rooms. There was another row of rooms in front of what is visible today, which would bring the total to 72 rooms. The Sinagua abandoned the site around 1300 A.D., about 50 years after they abandoned Palatki.