Margie Anderson's Favorite Indigenous People's Sites In Arizona
As we honor Native American Day on Monday, Oct. 9, these sites remind us of the peoples who made Arizona home long ago.
October 1, 2023
These Are My Favorite Indigenous People's Sites In Arizona.
Because my dad was a Chippewa Indian and I'm a registered member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewas, I've always had an interest in the sites around the state that were built by the peoples who lived here long ago. And in fact, many of their descendants live here in Arizona to this day! John and I have visited a lot of the more famous sites with the girls, so I'll start out telling you about those, but I thought I'd also add some lesser-known sites that aren't nearly as spectacular, but still fun to find.
Probably the most spectacular ruins we've ever visited are the ones at Wupatki National Monument. They are immense and very impressive! Make a day of it by visiting Sunset Crater which is just south of there. It costs $25 per car to enter, or free with your Senior pass. They have Junior Ranger activities and the visitor center is open 9-4:30 almost every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. They also close for extreme weather.
The best way to enjoy it all is to go to Wupatki first – at least that's what we did. Drive north from Flagstaff on ¬¬¬¬¬Highway 89 for about 30 miles, passing the Sunset Crater road to go up to Wupatki. Enter Wupatki on the east side of the highway and follow the road. We like to stop at every pueblo. There is one in particular that is enormous and has a big round court and a blow hole that sends up cool air all year long!
Follow the road all the way along – the visitor center is near the south entrance, which will be your exit after you've seen all the pueblos.Make sure you stop and get some souvenirs! Then just keep driving south and soon you'll be at the Sunset Crater National Monument. Again, the visitor center will be near where you leave the Monument.
You'll exit onto 89 and just head south and you'll be back in Flagstaff in no time.
If you take I-40 out of Flagstaff and head east, you'll come to the Walnut Canyon National Monument in about 5 miles. This one is a lot of fun, too, with beautiful old ruins that you can enter, and more that you can see in the cliffs around the site. Entry is $25 per car.
The ruins you can visit at Walnut Canyon are on a sort of island in the middle of a canyon. There are a lot of stairs going down to them, then a pathway that circles the "island" to let you see the different dwellings. Because each side of the hill they are on faces a different direction, it's almost like they each have their own climate – very cool to learn about and the signs and the steps keep it fun for the kids.
We had a picnic lunch at one of the tables near the visitor center once and the ravens were keeping us in stitches – there is something comical about the way they run! All those stairs are pretty much guaranteed to give the kids an appetite, so be sure to bring something to eat and lots of water.
Near Camp Verde
Tuzigoot is another pretty spectacular site. It started as a pile of rubble but was rebuilt so now it is a very impressive bunch of buildings. There is a $10 per person fee to get in, and they have a visitor center with a gift shop and museum, so be sure to stop there first. The trails are short with no shade.
We love going to Montezuma Well! It's just north of Camp Verde near McGuireville. Take exit 293 and just follow the signs. There is a great trail that takes you to the edge of the big depression that the water is in and you can walk down to the water's edge. There are some ruins along the edge of the walls, and you'll be able to walk into some near the bottom of the trail.
Kids absolutely love this place because of the trail and how nice and cool it is near the water, but also because once you come out of the bottom, keep going to see the place where the water from the well comes out into a rock chute and then goes into Wet Beaver Creek. It's a beautiful, shady place and the girls loved it there. Fee is $10 per person, and that covers the Well and the Castle.
Just south of Montezuma Well is Montezuma Castle, which is an ancient high-rise that is quite impressive. A nice 1/3 mile trail takes you to the ruins. There is a nice visitor center too.
Near Gila Bend
Painted Rock Petroglyph Site
To get to Painted Rock, take Interstate 8 west to about 12 ½ miles west of Gila Bend to exit 102. Then head north on Painted Rock Dam Road for just under 11 miles. The road is paved. From there, take Rocky Point Road about a half a mile to the Petroglyph Site and Campground.
There was no fee for the trail when we were there – we just parked and hit the trail, which circles a small rocky hill that is just full of petroglyphs. I mean, they are everywhere! We had a great time speculating on what the glyphs mean. Some are obviously animals, but does that mean those animals are in the area or is that someone's name? After all, my name means Bird Woman and my sister was Little Squirrel.
It's not a long trail or a big hill, but you can still spend a lot of time here. The brochure that you can download online says the last inventory counted over 3,800 petroglyphs on 428 boulders!
Near Bartlett Lake
We passed the road to these ruins many times before we finally decided to check them out one day. If you're heading to 7 Springs to play in Oak Creek, stop and check them out. Take Cave Creek Road/Seven Springs Road (FR24) about 14 miles from Carefree. There is a sign on the right side of the road, plus you can download a map online.
These ruins are not exactly spectacular, but they give you an idea of how the people lived out here in the desert. The rock walls are ruins now, and only a foot or so high. The trail is only about a mile long, and it's a self-guided tour like the others I've mentioned so far. There is no fee to get in, and there are 3 ramadas with picnic tables and grills, with parking for 8 vehicles. There are vault toilets and no camping.
Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve
I took the girls here years ago when it was called the Deer Valley Petroglyph Center. They had lots of activities for kids, and a self-guided tour down a short trail that had a lot of petroglyphs along it. It costs $9 general admission, $8 for seniors, $5 for kids 7-12. The trail is about a quarter mile long.
Off Bloody Basin Road Near Joe's Hill
Unnamed Petroglyph Site
This one requires at least a high clearance vehicle, and 4WD if you want to drive down to the base of the cliff and walk along it. We learned about it on http://www.trailsoffroad.com, which is my absolute favorite site for offroad drives.
This is a cliff that has petroglyphs all over it, and there are several sites nearby with small ruins, mostly rings of stone maybe two or three stones high. To get there, take Bloody Basin Road east from I-17. It's a gravel road and you will cross the Agua Fria River fairly soon, but it's almost always very low here.
Keep going down Bloody Basin Road until you reach the kiosk for the Agua Fria National Monument. Take 9014 south. Once you cross a cattle guard it changes to FR14 and you're not in the Agua Fria National Monument any more. Keep going until you pass where FR610 and FR599 split off, and keep going to the left on fr14. After a bit you'll come to an intersection. Turn right. There is a campsite and a big rockpile that is actually a ruin.
We drove down this road until it seemed to end, then put Mochi on a leash and I climbed down the cliff and got a bunch of photos of petroglyphs. There are a LOT! The cliff is very long and it's just loaded with them.
If you continue on 14 instead of turning, you'll quickly come to a downhill stretch of VERY rough road that will take you to the bottom of a little valley where you can park and walk along the base of the cliff. We saw some people doing just that. You will definitely need 4WD to get down that hill. If you get down the hill and keep going, then go up one more hill, you'll see some very impressive ruins of Brooklyn Mine – not a native people's site but still a lot of fun to explore. The road up was so bad that we parked at the bottom and walked to the ruins.
Near St Johns
Lyman Lake State Park
Peninsula Petroglyph Trail
From the campground at Lyman Lake State Park, you can access the Petroglyph trail. It goes uphill and around a peninsula, with great views of the lake from the top. There is a spot that passes through a rock tunnel that kids absolutely love! Winter is a great time to go here, because it can get pretty hot in summer. It's near St. Johns.
Before you go, download the booklet that is a guide to the trail, and when you get there, go to the store and see if the Ranger on duty will show you the binder full of petroglyph photos! After the trail, stop in again for an ice cream! Lyman Lake State Park is off US 180 near St Johns. Go to azstateparks.com to download a map and directions, plus the booklet and more information about cabins and camping at the lake.
Before you visit any of these sites, be sure to look online for more information and to download any booklets, maps, and brochures they may have available. And don't forget to stop at the visitors center if they have one – these are the best ways to learn about the people who made their homes here.