"Castle of the Ancient Ones" Tuzigoot National Monument by Jonathan_C

Tuzigoot National Monument Travel Guide: 27 reviews and 81 photos

You must excuse my ignorance, but before my recent trip to visit my brother in Arizona I had never heard of the prehistoric Sinaguan indians. And I had no idea that central Arizona is quite littered with multi-storey ancient ruins. I am once again reminded that travel, when combined with reading, provides the best education a person can get.

Tuzigoot National Monument is one of four Sinaguan pueblos that are protected and interpreted by the National Park Service. The others are Montezuma Castle, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki. If I were to be sent back in time to live in one of them I would probably choose Tuzigoot for it's combination of a prime location on the Verde river with lovely views of the surrounding countryside. This sprawling complex of masonry rooms was built during the Sinaguan 'golden age' between 1125 and 1400. At it's peak, the pueblo housed over 150 people in perhaps 80 rooms, some on the second storey.

The villagers who lived here led a good life for many generations. Four other pueblos adorned nearby ridges while an extended trade network, evidenced by Anasazi pottery and Mexican parrots found at the site, connected them to a much larger world. It is fascinating to think what calamity must have befallen these good people to cause them to completely abandon the pueblo and the entire Verde valley by 1425. Theories abound: drought, disease, war, dissolving trade networks, overpopulation. But no single cause seems a satisfactory explanation. Whatever the reasons, evidence indicates that these people moved on to found the pueblo Nuvakwewtaqa on Anderson Mesa, souteast of Flagstaff in the fifteenth century. Several modern Hopi clans trace their ancestry to Nuvakwewtaqa.

The Verde River Valley

From the top of the Tuzigoot ruin it is immediately obvious why they chose to build here. The Verde river valley and its tributaries are what make central Arizona not just livable, but delicious. You have year round water in a lower elevation setting with a much longer growing season than areas further north on the Colorado Plateau. For the irrigation farming techniques practiced by the villagers at Tuzigoot, the broad flood plain at this location was ideal. It goes without saying that local fauna would also be attracted to the river so the hunting must have been excellent as well.

For naturalists, a trail takes you to an overlook of one of Arizona's few freshwater marshes where the birding can be excellent.

Oasis in an Arid Land

Tuzigoot also gives you a glimpse of how precarious the lush gardens below can be. Located on a ridge perhaps 50' above the river valley, the flora around the ruins consists entirely of desert species including this lovely prickly pear cactus. Many of the rivers in Arizona are intermittent and one wonders how long a drought would have to last for the Verde to dry up as well.

Visit Tuzigoot to remind yourself that Euro-Americans were not the first to inhabit the desert southwest. Look around and think about what it took to build a society in this arid land and what could have caused it to disintegrate. There are lessons to be learned here.

  • Last visit to Tuzigoot National Monument: May 2004
  • Intro Updated Sep 20, 2005
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Reviews (3)

Comments (4)

  • zrim's Profile Photo
    Aug 12, 2004 at 11:18 AM

    At least these guys had water--I don't know what they did for water at Wupatki. So I'm with you, if I were to go back in time I'd choose Tuzigoot too.

  • Bwana_Brown's Profile Photo
    Aug 1, 2004 at 5:42 PM

    Another very informative page! Don't feel alone - I had not heard of this ancient tribe either until I read your great pages!

  • Jun 17, 2004 at 10:21 AM

    I made it to Walnut Canyon and Wupatki in AZ, which were both superb, plus Bandelier in NM... plenty more on my list, though! Thanks for sharing!

  • mtncorg's Profile Photo
    Jun 2, 2004 at 8:23 AM

    Tuzigoot is a real learning experience for those of us from outside AZ. History and self-discovery live on in your fine pages.


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