Excavated in the 1930s, these ruins are the best preserved pueblo built by the Sinagua people in the Verde Valley.
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After our visit earlier in the day to Montezuma Castle National Monument, we decided to go and explore Tuzigoot National Monument - all before lunch!
Tuzigoot National Monument is near Cottonwood, AZ. By car, it's around 20 miles west of I-17, south of Flagstaff, AZ.
While Tuzigoot National Monument spans 834 acres, only 58 acres are owned by the National Park Service. The main feature is the ruins of a pueblo that sits atop a limestone and sandstone ridge rising 120-feet above the Verde River floodplain
Tuzigoot is an ancient pueblo - essentially a village - that had 110 rooms spanning 2 or 3 stories. It was built by the Sinagua people - farmers with trade networks spanning the region.
If you've been following our journey as we've visited other ancestral puebloan sites within the National Park Service, the timelines at Tuzigoot will come of no surprise.
While the first buildings may have been built as early as 1000 CE, the main pueblo was built between 1125 and 1400 CE. The structure is tallest in the center, where rooms likely served a public or ceremonial function.
An interesting feature of Tuzigoot is the lack of doors. Many of the rooms would instead have been accessed by climbing down ladders through trapdoors in the ceiling.
By 1400 CE, the site was abandoned. The people migrated away from the area, as they did from many other ancestral puebloan sites nearby. Tuzigoot now stands as the largest and best preserved pueblo ruins built by the Sinagua people in the Verde Valley.
The site was excavated between 1933 and 1935. The excavation was led by Louis Caywood and Edward Spicer from the University of Arizona who were the principle archeologists despite only being graduate students at the time!
The excavation work itself was carried out by a team of out-of-work miners. They were employed by the Civil Works Administration (CWA) - a federal relief program.
While the men were out excavating in the fields, women were employed to piece together the thousands of fragile pottery shards being found.
No evidence has ever been found that the Apache or Yavapai had a name for the ruins at Tuzigoot.
It was during the excavation that the ruins were given their modern name. An Apache member of the excavation team suggested naming the pueblo after a nearby cutoff meander on the Verde River, Tú Digiz, meaning "crooked waters". Tuzigoot is the Anglicized version of the Tonto Apache term.
Following the excavation, the site was prepared for public display in 1935-36. A museum and visitor center were built in a style to match the ruins.
National Monument Designation
On July 25, 1939, Tuzigoot Ruins were designated as Tuzigoot National Monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After exploring Montezuma Castle National Monument in the morning, we arrived at Tuzigoot around noon.
Next to the parking lot is the Visitor Center - a structure built sympathetically to imitate the ruins themselves.
We headed inside. The first stop - getting a stamp in our Park Passport!
Inside the Visitor Center is a museum. Information displays reveal the history of Tuzigoot - the people who built it as well as the excavation.
There is also a large collection of ancient pottery - recovered during the archeological excavation in the 1930s.
We spent about half an hour, absorbing as much as we could and learning the history at Tuzigoot.
What I found especially fascinating about the pottery is that while many examples were made locally, there were plenty of others that had been imported. This demonstrates the extensive trade networks that existed in the area 700 years ago.
The Visitor Center sits at the bottom of the hill up to the ruins. A short trail starts at the Visitor Center and leads up the ridge.
We followed the path up, around and through the ruins.
Along the way, a series of information signs help to provide context about Tuzigoot.
One thing that fascinated us was how the ruins had ruins within them - new rooms built upon existing rooms! Since the pueblo was in a constant state of construction for almost 300 years, I guess this is simply the ancient version of modern-day remodeling!
The views from the top looking out across the valley below are also pretty spectacular.
Far too quickly our stroll around the short trail was complete - we were back at the Visitor Center.
Tuzigoot National Monument is one of the smallest sites we've been to on our journey so far - a Visitor Center and a few short trails cover much of what there is to see here.
If you find yourself passing through the area, or want to combine it with a trip to Montezuma Castle National Monument like we did, then Tuzigoot National Monument is worth a visit.
Join us next time as we explore the last National Park Unit in the area around Flagstaff, AZ - Walnut Canyon National Monument.
If you enjoyed this blog post and still want to learn more, visit our dedicated Tuzigoot National Monument page with a map and links to lots more useful resources!
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