Monday, September 12, 2011

Tuzigoot National Monument Trail

Tuzigoot National Monument preserves a large Southern Sinagua Pueblo ruins site in the Verde Valley area of central Arizona. Tuzigoot is related to the nearby Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well and these sites can be accessed from Interstate 17 in the area around Camp Verde between Flagstaff and Phoenix.

There is a 0.25 mile paved trail that climbs up the ridge to the top of the pueblo site. Along the trail are several interpretive signs and some of the native plants are identified. The Tuzigoot Ruins are positioned on a limestone ridge that runs north and south. By 1150 AD the Southern Sinagua were building large pueblos. The pueblos reached their maximum size by 1300 AD but were abandoned in the early 1400s.

The first segment passes rooms that are described as living and sleeping spaces. The building stones available here are mostly porous limestone. It is a mystery what happened to the Sinagua people as no separate tribe remains today. In 1300, there were 50 major pueblo sites in the Verde Valley.

The rooms were added gradually with no overall plan. The entrances were mostly through the roofs. Tuzigoot had 86 ground floor rooms at its height, with maybe 15 second story rooms, and about 225 residents. The builders used a double wall style and filled the space between with rubble. The irregular stones required a large amount of mud mortar. More than half the wall volume is mortar. The walls are 24 to 30 inches thick.
At the top, the trail enters a room and then climbs to the roof. There is a separate trail guide describing the landscape in four directions. Besides the views over the rooms as they cascade down the hillside, the south view is toward the Verde River and the riparian cottonwood, ash, walnut, and sycamore ecosystem that was available for farming, hunting and gathering. In modern times, there has been mining in the hills to the south and west and the towns of Clarksdale and Jerome are visible.

To the north there are limestone ridges that overlook an old Verde River oxbow. To the east, this basin is called the Tavasci marsh. The historic Tuzigoot Museum at the start of the trail is visible in this view. Building on hilltops provided good line of site views over the landscape and to other communities and kept more land available for farming.

The historic Tuzigoot Museum has been recently renovated and is celebrating 75 years of service in 2011. I thought the most eye catching display was the collection of very large Olla jars near the entrance. The Tuzigoot pottery is mostly undecorated red and brown. There are also other pottery and artifacts displays and more interpretive explanation of the Tuzigoot site. I visited Tuzigoot on an early September morning when there were only a few other visitors.

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