Landmark History: Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot - Looking Out
A view from the roof of the central structure of Tuzigoot.

The Landmark

Last I week I gave you the history of Montezuma Castle, a cliff-side dwelling built by the Sinagua people sometime around the 1100s. I mentioned in that article that the Sinagua people returned to the Verde Valley region of Arizona around the early to mid 1100s due to the fertile soil left behind by a volcanic eruption sometime around the year 1050 AD. Tuzigoot National Monument is another example of the structures built by the Sinagua people during this fertile period of the valley before they would migrate to other regions in the 1400s.

Tuzigoot has its own charm and style about it though. Instead of being built into the side of a cliff overlooking a creek, Tuzigoot is a 110 room pueblo structure situated atop sandstone and limestone ridge near a small cutoff from the Verde River. The monument is the best preserved pueblo ruin built by the Sinagua people in the region.

Offering expansive views of the Verde Valley, the small art town of Jerome and other surrounding cliffs, Tuzigoot is a great stop for landscape photographers. Like Montezuma Castle, Tuzigoot is an easy visit. Despite its position on a ridge, the small trail that takes you around the pueblo is mostly flat. Taking in the scenery and enjoying the small museum in the visitor’s center won’t take you more than an hour. It’s also a great stop on your way between Sedona and Phoenix.

While the route may seem a bit circuitous, you can easily visit both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot as part of the “scenic route” to Sedona, which is fortunate because having a ticket to one of the National Monuments saves you $2 on your visit to the other (and admission is already fairly cheap).

The History

Tuzigoot’s history is similar to that of Montezuma Castle, but with it’s own set of unique details. Built by the Sinagua people in the early to mid 1100s, Tuzigoot is situated above the floodplain of the Verde River. Tuzigoot means crooked water in Apache, a reference to Pecks Lake which is Northwest of the ruins.

The Sinagua culture was largely based around agriculture and trade. Building Tuzigoot on its ridge ensured easy access to the surrounding fertile lands, while avoiding any potential problems with the structure being washed away by seasonal flooding. It also allows for a great view of the surrounding area, allowing for residents to keep an eye out for potential traders from as far away as Mexico. Bones from macaw parrots were uncovered at Tuzigoot, indicating these trade connections. Additionally, there is evidence that the Sinagua grew a species of cotton from South America, meaning that they were weaving before Europeans even came close to Arizona.

It is estimated that around 250 people inhabited Tuzigoot at its peak. Interestingly, very few of the tightly packed rooms appear to have any doors. The reason for this is that trap doors were commonly built into the roof of the room and ladders were used for entering and exiting them. While it may seem that Tuzigoot is situated ideally as some kind of fort and this roof access may have made it difficult for any potential invaders to access the dwellings, there is not much evidence of warfare in the area. Instead, these rooftop trapdoors were more likely built to keep animals out rather than any enemies. It is also believed that on upper floors, regular doors built into the walls of the structure were used.

As with Montezuma Castle, the Sinagua people would abandon Tuzigoot sometime in the early to mid 1400s. Again, the reason for this is not entirely clear; however it is likely due to a lack of resources or tensions brewing with other cultures in the area. It is believed that many of the Sinagua people would simply join other tribes, such as the Hopi. Tuzigoot would be largely forgotten until the 1900s.

The nearby town of Jerome was supported by copper mines discovered in the late 1800s. Mining would support the town through the early 1900s, but after the Great Depression, the ore deposits would run dry and population in Jerome would fall to less than 100 by the 1950s. These mines would have a lasting impact on the valley surrounding Tuzigoot as much of the mining waste was dumped nearby. The tailings from the mining operation are still vaguely visible; however, the area was recently replanted and much of the area’s natural beauty is returning.

Tuzigoot was excavated and opened to the public in the mid 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt designated it a National Monument on July 25, 1939. Unlike Montezuma Castle, some of the areas of the Tuzigoot ruins are still accessible to the public, especially the rooftop of the central structure. If your curious about the history of the native peoples of the American West or curious about the impact of the expansion westward, I highly recommend a visit.

What to know if you go

Unlike Montezuma Castle, you are up out of the valley on a ridge here. On a sunny day, you’ll definitely want sunscreen and probably a bottle of water. Your very exposed to the sun at this monument.

Entry costs $5 per person. Having a pass for Montezuma Castle saves you $2 per person (the same applies for having a pass for Tuzigoot and going to Montezuma Castle).


Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States
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