indian ruins at montezuma well

Montezuma Well National Monument

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I found a hike on AllTrails to Montezuma Well.  It was just a short 0.7 mile loop with an offshoot.  Since the forecast called for rain, I thought it would be a nice outing for Annie and me to stretch our legs before the approaching bad weather. 

With the paved trails and information boards, I felt like Montezuma Well was more like a preserved monument than a hike.  The well is a National Monument that is operated by the National Parks Service, and it is free to visit.

Montezuma Well Formation

Regardless, the formation of Montezuma Well is very interesting.  The well receives less than 13 inches of rainfall a year.  That is barely 1/3 of the national average for the USA, yet it contains over 15 million gallons water.

montezuma well

7 second video view of Montezuma Well

The well’s water comes from rain and snow from atop the Mogollon Rim.  It trickled several hundred yards underground through porous rock until it reached a basalt wall.  The volcanic substance pushed the water upward which created an underground cavern until the roof collapsed.

Now, the Montezuma Well is replenished with 1.5 million gallons of new water a day as the water leaks out the side. 

Species Only Found at Montezuma Well

While the power of water and its ability to sculpt the land is interesting, what was even more amazing about Montezuma Well is that it is home to five unique species that are found nowhere else on the planet.

The water contains arsenic and a high amount of carbon dioxide.  Consequently, fish cannot live here, and as a result other species have evolved.  There is a tiny amphipod that looks like a shrimp no bigger than a pinky fingernail, leeches, a water scorpion, a snail, and a single-celled diatom.

The poor amphipod fights for its life every day and night.  It stays just low enough below the surface during the day to avoid the birds, and at night it has to flee to the surface and remain still under a plant, so the blind leeches that hunt by movement and water scorpions don’t find them!

Anyway, it made me wonder about the poor Indians that made homes here, of which ruins may still be seen.  Can you imagine thinking you’ve found an oasis in the desert and instead you found arsenic laced water with leeches? Yikes!

Along with the “stay on trail” sign featuring a rattle snake, I think there should be a no swimming sign. 

While the hike wasn’t the type I was looking for, the history and science of Montezuma Well was fascinating.  For those interested in other historic sites and Indian culture, consider visiting nearby Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot National Monument.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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