The area surrounding Sedona is rich in archaeological treasues. A visit to one of these historic sites ranks high on our list of things to do in Sedona. Be sure to take the time to see the fascinating remains of a thousand-year old culture which once thrived throughout the southwest.
Between 700 A.D. and 1400 A.D., a pueblo culture known as the Sinagua occupied the Verde Valley around what today is Sedona and the vicinty of the San Francisco Peaks near the modern town of Flagstaff. The Sinagua did not live in a vacuum - they were contemporaries of several other Mesoamerican groups of their time – most noteably, the Anasazi, Hohokam and Maya.
The Sinagua acted as the facilitators of trade between over 16 distinct cultural groups across a vast region that stretched from modern-day Utah to the rainforests of Guatemala. At Wupatki National Monument, the expanse of this trade network is still evident in the presence of 42 intact parrot skeletons that would have originated in the rainforests of the Yucatan. The discovery of trade-goods such as seashells from the Pacific, copper bells from Mexico and pottery from distant communities (suddenly vague. better: exact locations) throughout the Southwest are testament to the vibrant intercultural commerce which once shaped life on these lands.
One of the greatest mysteries of the Sedona region, along with the entire Southwest is the disappearance of these ancient cultures. At around 1400 A.D., all these groups, along with the Sinagua, vanished. There is good evidence that a severe drought occurred around 1200 A.D. which would have made survival of these communities increasingly difficult. This is most likely the reason the Sinagua abandoned their villages; where they went, however, remains subject to speculation.
This remarkable archaeological site features an amazing twenty-story cliff dwelling reminiscent of the world-renowned Mesa Verde ruins in Colorado. This expansive fortress was built more than a thousand years ago into a towering limestone cliff overlooking the Sycamore trees along Beaver Creek. Montezuma Castle is flanked by a visitor center providing a wealth of information about the fascinating history of this location; easy walking trails take you along the cliffs on a journey back in time.
Directions from Sedona: Follow I-17 to exit 289 (90 minutes north of Phoenix, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). Drive east (through two traffic circles) for approximately 1/2 mile to the blinking red light. Turn left on Montezuma Castle Road.
Exploring this ancient desert sinkhole reveals a place like no other in the world. Take your time and discover the tranquility of a site that has served as a hidden oasis of the desert for wildlife and people for thousands of years. A giant spring of fresh warm water supports a unique array of aquatic life found nowhere else in the world. Marvel at the ancient ruin sites overlooking the well, dip a finger in the 75-degree water and stroll along the prehistoric canals situated below idyllic Sycamore trees.
Directions from Sedona: Follow I-17 to exit 293 (4 miles (6.5 km) north of the exit for Montezuma Castle). Continue through the towns of McGuireville and Rimrock, following the signs for 4 miles (6.5 km) to the entrance to the Well. There is no fee to enter Montezuma Well.
Tuzigoot National Monument
Perched upon a prominent hilltop alongside a majestic bend of the Verde River, Tuzigoot is perhaps the best preserved ruin site in the Verde Valley. This expansive and strategically well-placed ancient fortress consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. A walkway through this ancient city lets you take in a vast view of the Verde Valley and imagine yourself as a member of a now vanished culture
Directions from Sedona: Follow 89A from Sedona south toward Cottonwood. After approximately 15 miles (24 km) turn right onto E. Mingus Ave. Turn right on N. Main St/AZ-260. Turn right onto Tuzigoot Rd.
Wupatki National Monument
Less than 800 years ago, Wupatki Pueblo was the largest pueblo on the plateau lands surrounding the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona´s highest mountain. Wupatki flourished as a convention center of cultures from both American continents. Yet it was located in one of the driest and most barrenly exposed regions on the Colorado Plateau, suffering from extreme heat in the summer and bitter cold in the winter and offering few sources of food, water, or comfort. How and why did people live here? Explore the secrets of this ancient trading post, whose builders have moved on - but their legacy remains.
Directions: From Flagstaff, take US 89 north for 12 miles (19 km), turn right at sign for Sunset Crater Volcano - Wupatki National Monuments. The Visitor Center is 21 miles (34 km) from this junction.
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walk in the footsteps of the people who lived at Walnut Canyon more than 700 years ago. Peer into their homes, cliff dwellings blending into the environment so well they are easy to miss at first glance. In Walnut Canyon, the presence of seasonal water made for a dwelling location rare and precious to the early inhabitants of the high desert lands. It remains valuable today as a rich habitat for plants and animals. See for yourself on trails leading you along the canyon rim along cliffss, along the homes of an ancient people.
Directions: Walnut Canyon National Monument is located approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) east of Flagstaff. To reach Walnut Canyon from Flagstaff, travel east on Interstate 40 toward Albuquerque. Take Exit 204, and head south. The Walnut Canyon Visitor Center is located at the end of this 3 mile (5 km) road.