Not far from the Montezuma Castle, running into Beaver Creek, sits a geological wonder known as Montezuma Well. Just as the vortexes surround Sedona, the presence that dwells in this mystical body of water holds undeniable sway over those tourists who visit this ancient place.
To understand from whence the magic comes, a bit of history is helpful. Nearly 12,000,000 years ago, the entire Verde Valley which includes Sedona, AZ was covered with a vast (27 miles long by 15 miles wide, precisely) lake which deposited tremendous amounts of limestone over the course of its 10,000,000 year lifespan. The lake evaporated some 2,000,000 years back, after natural lava dams eroded, releasing the water from its shallow prison, and leaving behind only what is now the Verde River.
Countless streams, hidden from view, deep beneath the drying surface were left behind by the escaping waters. Over time, these streams sliced their way through the softer layers of limestone creating caverns in some places, and bubbling up to the surface in other areas. The resulting springs deposited massive amounts of salt, known as travertine that would develop into hardened circular borders at the surface opening. As the water carved deeper into the hidden layers, much of the water in the upper layers of the porous limestone evaporated, weakening its composition. The Montezuma Well was formed when the weight of the travertine above forced the brittle roof of the underlying limestone cavern to collapse.
This massive hole, over 50 feet deep, filled with water, and carried on, business as usual; or perhaps unusual, as far as bodies of water are concerned. Millions of gallons of water still flow through the bottom and move towards a 300 ft long cave, eventually exiting at the southeast side of the mound, into an ancient irrigation ditch constructed by the first inhabitants. However, most unusual about Montezuma Well is the water itself, and the aquatic life that resides within its slippery walls.
Consistently at 76 degrees, the water of the well contains such high levels of Carbon Dioxide that nothing, with the exception of a select few aquatic animal and plant life can survive the toxicity. These are the residents: leeches, water scorpions, Amphipods-miniscule, shrimp like critters, muskrats, turtles, and wintering waterfowl, such as widgeons, coots, mallards and Canadian geese. While plenty of algae and aquatic vegetation coat the walls below the surface, several varieties of plant life have sprung up around its border. Juniper and Acacia trees, Ephedra, Prickly Pear Cacti, and an assortment of desert grasses all provide for stunning natural views.
Many religions believe that their ‘god’ provides, and when we examine history, nowhere else is this concept more aptly demonstrated. Considering that Montezuma Well was formed shortly before the arrival of its first visitors-weary travelers in need of rest and water-and, within a few more centuries, ancient tribes would inhabit this area because of its life-sustaining resources, it certainly would appear that divine intervention played a role in the well’s creation.
According to history, the Hohokam were the first to inhabit the surroundings in 600 A.D., building pit houses, tapping into the continual flow of the spring, and planting crops in abundance. Several centuries later, in 1125 A.D., they were joined by the Sinagua who came from the Northern reaches of the pre-Arizonian territory in search of better living conditions. By the mid-1400′s the entire Verde Valley area had been abandoned by these tribes for reasons unknown. But the Montezuma Well stood as an ever present oasis for man and nature.
Sitting silent until Spanish conquistador Antonio de Espejo arrived in 1583, this geological wonder would never again be abandoned, with explorers, and settlers occupying the area in the 19th century and scientists and visitors studying and gaining inspiration from it as the years passed. In the mid-1800′s, Montezuma Well became a favorite picnic spot for soldiers stationed in Verde Valley. Owned with no more than squatter’s rights, the well would change hands several times, often being swapped for some horses, with final rights belonging to William Beriman Back. Back’s children sold all rights to the United States Government in 1946 and it became an integral part of the Montezuma Castle National Monument.
Whether coming to reflect on the crystal blue waters, or to soak up the varied and incredible past of Montezuma Well, one can feel the surrounding spirits. Say a prayer, leave a feather, and walk away knowing that you have just been touched by the beginnings of time.
Montezuma Well is not included in any Silver Spur Tour