Tuzigoot Indian Ruins

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The pueblo of Tuzigoot (Pronounced: Two Zuh Goot), meaning ‘crooked water’ in Apache, sits majestically atop a limestone summit surveying past, present and future. Sitting 20 miles south of Sedona, Arizona on ALT US Highway 89A, just outside of Clarkdale, Arizona, several well-known neighbors such as the Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Montezuma Castle, the Tavasci Marsh, and steep terrain of Mingus Mountain linger in the distant horizon. Once a lush, tropical oasis amidst unforgiving desert, the Tuzigoot National Monument holds court over culture long lost and the lessons we can still learn today.

The prehistoric geography came together under the forces of the four elements: fire, water, wind and earth. Once Mother Earth stretched the canvas to her satisfaction, work began on the composition. With deep, majestic crevasses of the Grand Canyon, and an elegant blending of color and sparkle in the Painted Desert in the north, to the stately Saguaro cacti populating the Sonoran Desert, it seemed that just a hint of green was needed to complete a true picture of Arizona beauty. Therefore, with a stroke of a gently held brush, nature touched the canvas with a utopian habitat for plants, animals and humans alike, the Verde Valley.

Tuzigoot National Monument is home to numerous species of plants and animals. The varied assortment of vegetation have adapted from a prehistoric environment akin to that of the northeastern states, to the arid temperament of today. The Tavasci Marsh, just beyond Tuzigoot, today is one of the few remaining natural watercourses within the state, and thusly garners attention from preservationists who work to keep it alive. Designated by the Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area, the Marsh is a focal point for some events of the annual Verde Birding and Nature Festival. Great Blue Herons and Red Wing Blackbirds come to feast on the riches of natural rest stop, while bobcats, and mountain lions stalk the valley in search of a satisfactory meal.

A wealth of natural resources that would allow for more than just survival brought human occupation to the area in the 700’s. Dwellings, including the pueblo at Tuzigoot National Monument, sprang up over the course of the 12th century. The ancient Sinagua tribes constructed sites all over the Verde Valley, but the Tuzigoot pueblo stood out for several reasons, such as location and design. High, and alone, overlooking the Verde River, some 120 feet below, the pueblo more resembled a battle-ready fort than the peaceful commune that it actually was. In addition, while most Sinagua dwellings in the valley were single massive units, the Tuzigoot pueblo actually consisted of a grouping of dwellings, constructed haphazardly over several centuries, forming intricate patterns atop its earthen throne.

The estimated 250 Tuzigoot residents created an ideal existence. Hunting, farming, and trading wares ensured that they could maintain a standard of living that benefited not only themselves, but the land as well. Even with the abundance of resources, life for the Tuzigoot tribes was not without hardships. The average life expectancy was 40 years, and child mortality served to inflict the pain of loss on many a Sinagua family. In stone-lined tombs, the deceased children rested beneath the floors to impart their spirits in to the lives of generations to come. While many more surely exist, over 400 burial sites have been unearthed within the boundaries of Tuzigoot National Monument.

Even though, as did many ancient tribes, the Tuzigoot dwellers vanished in the 1400’s, many of the artifacts recovered define the ingenuity and skill that kept the Sinagua spirit alive for so many centuries. More than 20,000 artifacts, such as axes, cookware, pottery, clothing, and artwork, are now on display in the Tuzigoot National Monument museum, providing an unfettered view of life long before we knew it. Were it not for the work of several dedicated landowners, archaeologists and the government, however, perhaps there would be no ruins from which to gain such a fascinating view of the ancient cultures.

In a valley overflowing with mineral riches, when mining became a way of life, the very greed that brought people to this area may be exactly what protected the Tuzigoot Indian ruins. The Tuzigoot National Monument sat on land owned by the United Verde Mining Company. In the early 1930’s, Yavapai County purchased the property for $1 from United Verde, and then transferred ownership to the federal government. Excavations began in 1933, led by Louis R. Caywood and Edward H. Spicer, archaeologists from the University of Arizona. In 1936, the Visitor Center and Museum was completed, constructed from natural materials, such as indigenous stones, and timber harvested by the Civil Conservation Corps. After several years of excavation and preservation work, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated the ruins as a U.S. National Monument in 1939.

Although it stood nameless for centuries, Tuzigoot National Monument today is one of largest and best-preserved ruins of Sinagua Pueblo life in Verde Valley. While it may not offer up the grand majesty of Monument Valley or the breathtaking beauty of Sedona, Tuzigoot exists as a reminder that progress takes time, a willingness to learn, and nothing short of hard work!

Tuzigoot Indian Ruins is not included on any Silver Spur Tour.