We visited Walnut Canyon National Monument on February 14, 2012, the centennial birthday of the State of Arizona. Admission was free and we were asked to carry an Arizona flag on the trail as a way of saying “Happy Birthday.
Located about 10 miles from Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon has had human occupants over thousands of years. The first permanent culture, from about AD 600 to 1400, are called Sinagua, from the old Spanish name of Sierra de Sin Agua (mountains without water.) The National Monument was established in 1915 to preserve the ancient cliff dwellings. This site covers about 3,600 acres.
Taking the Island Trail from the Visitor Center, there are about 240 steps down to the site (and I’m convinced there were at least twice as many coming back up.) We weren’t able to walk the entire trail because half was closed due to snowfall the previous day. We were still able to see most of the site, which includes 25 cliff dwelling rooms along with fabulous views of the canyon.
On another day, we visited Tuzigoot National Monument, another location inhabited by the Sinagua peoples. This location is near Jerome and just outside Clarkdale, Arizona, about 65 miles from Walnut Canyon. The name “Tuzigoot” was taken from a near-by water source, and is the anglicized Apache word for “crooked water.”
Much of the land around Tuzigoot was covered with copper tailings from the mining operations in Jerome. In some places the tailings were as deep as 50 feet. A few years ago, the tailings were covered with dirt, then seeded, and the area is now covered with foliage.
Much of the excavation at the Tuzigoot site, which comprises 42 acres, was done in the 1930’s by out of work miners. Women were also employed by the Civil Works Administration to put thousands of pottery sherds back together.
Not far from Tuzigoot is Montezuma Castle National Monument, another Sinagua Culture settlement. This site was declared a site of historic and cultural significance by President Theodore Roosevelt on December 8, 1906. Much of the site was looted over the years, so very few artifacts remain.
When white settlers first saw the site, set into limestone cliffs, they mistakenly assumed it was Aztec in origin, even thinking that Montezuma himself may have live there, thus explaining the name. In 1933, a 45-50 room pueblo was excavated. Early visitors were allowed to access the structure, but public access was discontinued in 1951 because of extensive damage to the pueblo.