The Agua Fria National Monument contains more than 400 archaeological sites, spanning some 2,000 years of human history. The first Indian settlers were Arcaic people, moving seasonally to hunt game and gather wild plant foods. At about A.D. 1100, many families left their lowland settlements in central Arizona to establish new villages at higher elevations. These uplands included Perry Mesa and Black Mesa, separated by the river’s deep canyon.
Archaeologists call the late prehistoric people who lived on the mesas between A.D. 1250 and 1450, the Perry Mesa Tradition. It is estimated that at least 3,000 people inhabited settlements in areas that are no visited only occasionally by ranchers, hunters and hikers. Remnants of stone pueblos, some containing more than 100 rooms, represent a system of communities with economic and social ties. Pueblo la Plata, a large settlement of 80 to 100 rooms, attracts many visitors.
Bighorn sheep, deer and human figures are prominent features on the impressive rock art sites created by the people who once called this place home. They traded with distant groups for painted pottery and other items. Networks of hilltop structures may have acted as communication systems, where smoke signals relayed information or warned of attacks. Structures sitting at the edges of steep canyons are though by scientists to have provided defense against invaders.
The people of the Perry Mesa Tradition abandoned their villages by A.D. 1500, possibly retreating from a drought. Early Spanish explorers encountered Yavapai Indians living in the areas, but their relationship to the Perry Mesa Tradition is unclear. In the 1870s, the Yavapai were compelled by the U.S. Army to move to the San Carlos Reservation in eastern Arizona, from there eventually returning to their homeland. Today, Yavapai communities exist near Prescott and Camp Verde.
Many of the national monument’s archaeological sites are remote and inaccessible areas. Pueblo la Plata
is suggested for exploration by visitors, as well as a rock art site at the confluence of Badger Springs Wash and the Agua Fria River (see Badger Springs Trail
). Sadly, many sites have sustained damage from looting and vandalism. However, they continue to provide scientific, educational and cultural values. Visitors are asked to please help protect these prehistoric and historic sites as an important part of the nation’s heritage.
A dedicated core of volunteers, called the Arizona Site Stewards, monitor sites to ensure their protection. They work with BLM archaeologists to record, excavate and stabilize sites.
Agua Fria National Monument
Amanda James, Monument Manager
21605 N. 7th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85027-2929