Sometimes when I visit a historical monument, I’m reminded of the adage: “to understand people, walk a mile in their shoes” (or moccasins, sandals). It’s a good way to get the most out of my visit – to imagine how life must have been during that era. I thought about that on my recent return to Tuzigoot National Monument. I gained a new appreciation for these hunter-gathering people who lived in the Verde Valley between 700 and 1400 AD. I considered myself walking that ‘mile’ – or even just a few steps.
1. Step Inside
Visit the Tuzigoot Museum and Visitor’s Center. I recommend seeing this before the ruins. Interpretive and interactive exhibits explain the story of the Sinagua people. Learn about the structures and the differences between these pueblos and other nearby ruin sites. Even the museum itself has an interesting story. If you’ve been to Tuzigoot before but haven’t been recently, know that the exhibits are continually being updated. Kids of any age will enjoy the Junior Ranger program.
2. Step Out
It’s time to take a little walk up that path to the pueblo. The developed path from the parking lot to the pueblo seems easy enough. After all, it’s paved and even. Imagine if you lived 1000 years ago, and were walking up from the fields in the valley by the river, carrying a heavy load of corn or deer meat.
3. Step Around
Walk the circumference of the pueblo, which was originally two stories high throughout and comprised 110 rooms. Get the feel for the walls of clay and rock. Think about how long it must have taken to bring all these building materials to the top of this hill. Imagine spending nights in those small rooms!
4. Step Up
Climb the steps up to the rooftop, the highest point on the remaining second level of the pueblo. Here you will find what may be your most significant memory of your visit to Tuzigoot – the view! You can learn about this vantage point from the visitor center brochure, “A View from the Roof.” Gaze down at the Tavasci Marsh and Verde River where you will see how the vegetation transforms from wetlands to desert.
5. Step Down
Finally, walk the Tavasci Marsh loop, a half-mile round trip. It’s possible to see some of the 167 species of birds here or even the occasional desert river otter among the cattails. Before Europeans arrived in the 15th century, the marsh, river and Peck’s Lake provided lush, almost tropical surroundings. The name, “Sinagua” is Spanish for “without water” and was coined in the 1920’s by Museum of Northern Arizona founder and archeologist Harold Colton. It almost seems like a misnomer since water was abundant. Perhaps the name was given as one theory to the group’s disappearance – maybe an extended period of drought? Other theories include: depletion of food sources, disease, conflicts with other cultures or spiritual reasons.
6. Step Away
Whether you’re an Arizona newcomer, long-time resident or visitor, you’ll appreciate the step back in time with a visit to Tuzigoot National Monument. You’ll leave the park with more knowledge about Arizona’s native cultures, natural history and most likely, a renewed appreciation for your modern existence.