Tuesday I woke up with a minor cold. I had felt it coming on the night before and didn’t sleep to well. I was okay but had a scratchy throat and runny nose. It has progressed to a little more this morning but we had a couple of places still left on our list of places we wanted to visit.
The history around here is amazing.
This morning we went back to Montezuma’s Castle and we were the first ones to be in the facility and we were alone for most of the time we were there. It was quiet and peaceful as we had an opportunity to browse the grounds with no one else in the way. They have had over 400,000 visitors this year, 1633 of them passed through the gates yesterday.
Sinagua farmers built the Castle sometime between 1100 and 1300. It is a five-story, 20 room dwelling sits in a cliff recess about 100 feet above the valley floor. Early American settlers assumed it was Aztec in origin and named it Montezuma Castle. The valley was full of game, rich land and Beaver Creek. It is believed that this building once had as many as 45 rooms and housed between 100 and 200. There is the main Castle but a long the cliff you see evidence of other buildings and walls that have deteroated with time.
You see the sign on the interstate that points you to Montezuma’s Well just a short seven miles from where we are parked and you wonder to yourself, “What the hell is Montezuma’s Well.” You can never anticipate what you will see when you crest the hill.
This is the ancestral home and a place of great power for the Native Americans who lived here as well as those living today. While the area receives less than 13” of rainfall per year, the Well contains over 15 million gallons of water. Thousands of years ago, the Well’s water came in the form of snow and rain high above in the Mogollon Rim. The Rim consists of large hills just to the north of the site that rim the town of Payson. Some of the hills rise to an elevation of eight thousand feet or more. The water from the rim flowed underground through the path of least resistance. For century’s water flowed drop-by-drop eroding away an underground cavern that created the Well when the cavern collapsed and create the sinkhole. The water travels down the unground until it meets a vertical wall of volcanic basalt that acts like a dam and forces the water up towards the surface and into the well.
The water still flows today. Every day 1.5 million gallons flow though an outlet into the Beaver Creek as more water flows into the Well. It flows through a crack in the side of the bowl, the outlet, as water continues to flow into the well from underground. Used by the Native Americans as a source of much needed water for desert living, remanents of an irrigation ditch can be seen as well as cliff dwellings within the rim of the well. It is believed that the Hohokam Indians for the Salt River Valley in Southern Arizona may have built the homes that are preserved here. It is believed that they likely shared the Verde Valley with the people of the Sinagua culture. Their pueblo on the cliffs around the Well was only one of many villages that dotted the landscape along the Beaver River in the Verde Valley. Able farmers they channeled the water into long irrigation ditches to provide water to their fields.
By 1425 the Hohokam had migrated to the south and the rooms on the cliffs remained empty. The builders ‘ descendants still return today. The Hopi, Zuni, Yavapai and Western Apache have revered this place for centuries.
Today this spot is sacred. It is a place of power, not to be visited lightly, but thoughtfully and with respect.
After visiting the Well and the Castle we decided to visit the other side of the Apache Wars by paying a visit to the Fort Verde State Historic Park home to some of remaining buildings that occupied Fort Verde a military outpost used from 1865 – 1891. It was home base to General Crook’s U.S. Army detachment.
Along with Fort Verde there were encampments around the area. Camp Lincoln and Camp Verde also housed the U.S. Military forces charged with removing the Apache threat. There are still three buildings occupying the fort and unlike the movies, soldiers didn’t hide behind walls and Indians didn’t attack forts. The military felt that cowering behind walls was bad for the soldier morale. The fort was build on at high hillside with no outside protective walls. Instead it was open to view the surrounding area. Because the military had issues with fighting the Apache they had to make the fort a source of food, weapons and trading making it a part of their livelihood and thus making them depend on the fort. Renegade bands continued to raid the farmers and miners until the end of the Apache wars.
We drove up to the town of Payson about 64 miles from Camp Verde. As with many of the small towns in the area they have been taken over by the big box stores and fast food places but some of the old town still exists. On the way to Payson you pass through the villages of Strawberry and Pine. All of these villages were formed to house the growing white population in the mid 1800’s after the Arizona territory was established in February 1863 and the Indians were subdued.
As gold was discovered in the area there was a migration of people seeking fame and fortune from miners to ranchers. The Native Americans living in the area could not resist raiding the rancher’s herds. With the raids came retaliation and the start of the Apache War. The U.S. Government surrounded the area with the army posts and began to pursue the tribes. The Indians were eventually driven into the mountains as the U.S. military harassed them by destroying their food supply. During the cold winters, the Army finally successfully subdued the Apache/Yavapai people and they were held on reservations in the 1870’s allowing the white settlers to come to the area. In April 1873 the principal hostile chiefs and twenty-five hundred of their followers surrendered to General Crook at Fort Verde.