Day 126 – Red Rock Country Part 2

Day 126 – Red Rock Country Part 2, April 2, 2011

Once we found the local Starbucks, tucked away in the Safeway, we drove four miles to Tuzigoot National Monument.  Tuzigoot, Apache for crooked water, is the remnant of a Southern Sinagua Village that was built in the 1100s.  The original pueblo of 77 ground floor rooms was two stories and sat upon a ridge above the Verde Valley.  The village was home to approximately 50 people for 100 years.  In the 1200s, the population doubled and then doubled again as farmers fled drought and settled here.

While visiting Tuzigoot, also a virtual cache, the ranger suggested I visit Montezuma Castle, a national monument that was not included in the Reader’s Digest suggested itinerary.

I decided to visit Montezuma Castle after quick visit to Jerome, a town only four or so miles from Cottonwood that is perched on Cleopatra Hill.  The hill is so steep and the buildings were so close to the edge, that the town’s jail shook right off the hillside due to dynamite blasts from nearby copper and silver mines.  While the mines are long gone (closed down in 1953), Jerome’s colorful past history lives on.  Established in 1882, Jerome quickly grew to the territory’s fifth-largest city.  At the turn of the century, the town was home to so many saloons, gambling dens, and brothels that a New York newspaper tagged it “the wickedest town in America”.  Jerome doesn’t appear to be the wickedest town any longer.  Instead, it provides outstanding views.

Upon arriving at Montezuma Castle, VANilla snatched the last parking spot. For as popular as this park seemed to be, I’m surprised it didn’t make the Reader’s Digest book.  Petey and I meandered along the sidewalk loop with countless others.  The path led us past two ruins, Montezuma Castle and the Neighbors Next Door, another virtual cache.

Montezuma Castle, a five-story, 20-room Sinagua dwelling, stands in a cliff recess 100 feet above the valley.  Early settlers, who marveled at the structure, presumed it was Aztec, thus the name.  Ruins of a badly, deteriorating, six-story, 45-room building stand just to the west.  It was built at the base of the cliff very close to a reliable water source.

Located approximately 11 miles from Montezuma Castle, is Montezuma Well, a natural sinkhole 368 feet wide and 56 feet deep with limestone cliffs towering 70 feet above.  It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert; quite an amazing place.  The sinkhole formed around 11,000 years ago after underground streams took millions of years to dissolve soft limestone forming caverns until one of them collapsed.  The soft limestone used to be the bottom of Lake Verde that broke through the sediment dam to form the Verde River 2 million years ago.

The first inhabitants of the Well were of the Hohokam culture that lived in one-room pit houses dug partially into the ground and created an irrigation ditch to take advantage of the Well’s continuous source of water.  Later, the Sinagua came to the Verde Valley and they constructed enough cliff dwellings in the Well and hilltop pueblos to support 200 people.  To support such a large village, the Sinagua expanded the irrigation system which is still in use today by local residents.

The water from the Well is charged with Carbon Dioxide and therefore gill breathing fish cannot survive.  Instead, a variety of unique aquatic species, dependent on each other, have evolved.  Shrimplike creatures known as amphipods feed on the algae growing on the surface of the Well.  Leeches rise from the bottom of the Well at night and feed on the amphipods.  Night swimming scorpions also feast on the shrimplike creatures.  Doesn’t seem like water I want to be in!

The heat seemed to be getting to Petey, so we returned to Cottonwood to camp at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park.  The Park got its name when Calvin Ireys went shopping for a ranch in the 1950’s.  Upon arriving at this spot, he found that the owner’s horse had just died and the carcass was awaiting pick up.  When he asked his children which ranch he should buy, they replied, “The one with the Dead Horse”.  Ireys bought the property and the name stuck.

Today the park is home to a large camping area which is more like a dog park than an RV park (there may be more dogs here than people), beautiful lagoons stocked with trout and bass, and several hiking trails.  Petey and I took a short walk around one of the lagoons and found a micro geocache before we opted for some shade.

Tomorrow I plan doing a little more exploring before heading to Prescott and then to the Phoenix area to visit some friends. ETB


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