A Big Bird Petroglyph and a 1.6 Million Gallon a Day Spring… The Sedona Series

Big birds and camp dogs, four of !032 petroglyphs at the V-bar-V Heritage Site in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

Big birds and camp dogs, four of 1032 petroglyphs found at the V-bar-V Heritage Site in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

Sinagua rolls off the tongue easily, like so many Spanish words do. It is a name applied to Native Americans who lived in the Verde Valley between 500 and 1425 CE by the archeologist Harold Colton. Sinagua means ‘without water.’ The early Spaniards originally applied it to the San Francisco Mountains north of Flagstaff, the Sierra Sin Agua. I think they were disgusted that such beautiful mountains didn’t produce a river.

On our recent visit to Sedona, we visited two areas that did have water, however: the V-Bar-V Heritage Site and Montezuma’s well. The fact they had water made them important to the Sinagua. The V-Bar-V Heritage Site is known for its fine collection of petroglyphs— Native American rock art. Fortunately, the ranchers who had owned the V-Bar-V and ran their cattle along Beaver Creek both appreciated and protected the rock art.

V-Bar-V, by the way, reflects the ranches brand, V—V, that would have been burned onto the hide of its cattle. Branding helped identify the ranch’s cattle when they got mixed up with the neighbors. It also discouraged cattle wrestling, which was a popular way of supplementing your income in the Old West. Marketing gurus today apply the term branding to establishing your unique product, whether its potato chips or blogs.

If you been around my blog for a while, you are aware that Peggy and I really like rock art, both as an art form and for its historic context. I also find many of the petroglyphs humorous. Who know whether the Native Americans artists found them so. Most of what we know about rock art fits under the category of speculation.

The V-Bar-V site includes 1,032 petroglyphs on 13 panels, according to the archeologists who count such things. Most were created between 1150 and 1400 CE. The Sinagua packed their bags and abandoned the area in 1425 as part of a massive migration that impacted the whole Southwest for some unknown reason. Maybe a visionary shaman predicted that the Europeans were coming and would ruin the neighborhood. (Just kidding.) Anyway, the petroglyphs include zoomorphs, animal like figures, anthopomorphs, human like figures, and various geometric forms representing everything from maps to astronomy. While half listening to the volunteer led tour, Peggy and I were busy with our cameras.

Long neck or long body? I often fine a humorous side to rock art.

Long neck or long body? Check out the two human-like figures on the right. I often find something humorous about rock art. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rock art at V-Bar-V Heritage Site near Sedona, Arizona

Love the tail.

Sinagua rock art at the V-Bar-V Heritage Site in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

Archeologists believe the circles represent the sun and serve as a planting calendar.

The two turtles are quite impressive. But what about the couple above the turtles. My imagination tells me they are dancing.

The two turtles are quite impressive. But what about the couple above the turtles. My imagination tells me they are dancing.

We found Montezuma’s Well a few miles away from the V-Bar-V Heritage Site. There is also a nearby Montezuma’s Castle that we didn’t get to. The so-called castle is a large cliff dwelling. Neither the Well nor the Castle has anything to do with Montezuma, however. Think profit. Early entrepreneurs believed that stealing the famous Aztec emperor’s name would attract more tourists. So here we are back to branding. They are lucky Montezuma didn’t wreak a little revenge on them for the theft. That could have gotten messy.

The Well is actually a large sinkhole with a very productive spring in the middle that pumps out some 1.6 million gallons (6 million liters) of water each day. Given that it manages to do this in the middle of a desert and has been for several thousand years, it is no wonder the Sinagua and other local natives found the spring so valuable. The Yavapai Indians even find it sacred; they believe that their ancestors emerged from the spring. Their legend contends that nothing can re-enter the hole once it has emerged. You can’t go home again.

Scientists have learned a lot about the spring. They have been studying it for decades. For one, they believe the water originates up on the Mogollon Rim where it percolates down through various rock layers until it hits the permeable Red Wall Sandstone, which it follows south until it reaches an impermeable volcanic dike, forcing it to the surface. Fish can’t live in the water, but leeches do, thousands of them. I was not tempted to go for a swim.

Not surprising, there is ample evidence including a number of dwellings that demonstrate the spring’s early use by the Sinagua and others. As for the name, I prefer the Hopi’s name for the spring, Tawapa, which means sun spring.

Montezuma's Well and cliff house in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

A cliff house perches above Montezuma’s Well. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The same cliff house from a different perspective.

The same cliff house from a different perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We found this shelter down next to the water, very well protected from the elements.

We found this shelter down next to the water, very well protected from the elements.

Inlet from Montezuma's Well in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

A small inlet from the spring ran next to the shelter and probably provided water. I liked the reflection shot it provided.

Ruins of Native American shelters found at Montezuma's Well in Verde Valley, Arizona.

Just down the trail from the shelter, we found more ruins.

A final shot taken down into Montezuma's Well. Next Blog: Burning Man 2015: the Theme.

A shot from the rim of Montezuma’s Well.

I found this tree growing  down in the valley. It demanded I take its picture.

I found this tree growing down in the valley below the Well. It demanded I take its picture. Native Americans farmed  in the valley with water from the spring.

More ruins are found above the well. Native Americans farmed some sixty acres in the valley below with water from the spring.

A final photo. This ruin was perched above the valley just down from the edge of the Well. NEXT BLOG: Burning Man… the 2015 theme.

21 comments on “A Big Bird Petroglyph and a 1.6 Million Gallon a Day Spring… The Sedona Series

  1. Great post, as always. The mass exodus is intriguing. I don’t recall ever hearing about that before. It brings to mind other cultures and communities that seemingly vanished. My first thought was that a drought might have forced them out, but that Montezuma’s well makes that unlikely. Fascinating, in any event. The photos really bring this post to life.

  2. “1.6 million gallons (6 million liters) of water each day”—Wow, that’s incredible when you think about it.

    Love the pics. It appears that even I with my limited artistic abilities might have been able to create some rock art. 😉

    • I had a friend who lives in Sedona talk about the ‘power’ of the region. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Southwest, and I agree. The combination of space, beauty, texture and Native American culture has great appeal to me. –Curt

  3. Your “big birds” look remarkably like flamingos to me. And I couldn’t help heading to the bedroom closet to pull out my big Liberian country cloth. The parallels between the rock art here and the images on the cloth are remarkable.

    Have you ever been to Hueco Tanks? Althought that isn’t “living water” in the same way as Montezuma’s well, the combination of Native American culture, desert realities and reverence for water seems the same.

    • Not sure about the birds, Linda, but flamingos work. 🙂 And no, I haven’t been to Hueco Tanks but Peggy and I will program it in on our next trip through the area. I see a lot more petroglyphs that I do pictoglyphs, so they are always a treat.

      If you follow 54 out of El Paso up in to New Mexico, you come to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site, which is fantastic, the best that Peggy and I have ever seen. –Curt

  4. This is fascinating! It’s not the type of thing I would expect to see in the US and then I wonder why more people aren’t flocking there to get a glimpse of this piece of history and culture. I’m adding a visit to my list of places I need to see — soon. A trip to the Southwest is long overdue!

    • That it is. The great thing about petroglyphs, in addition to the art and culture, is the fact that they are literally carved in stone and can last for hundreds, if not thousands of years… assuming people don’t damage them. –Curt

  5. I love the long-bodied people with the splayed out fingers and toes. We didn’t make it to the ranch or to Montezuma’s well. We’ll have to go back now!

    • It’s an impressive collection of petroglyphs Sheila. Also, If you ever get the chance, Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico has one of the most impressive collections Peggy and I have ever seen, but you need to do some searching. It’s like a treasure hunt. –Curt

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