Evidence of the Sinagua people (from Spanish “sin agua,” meaning “without water”) in the Sedona area dates as far back as 600 A.D. The tribes were involved in agriculture and developed trade routes which lead them to interact with the Hohokam people, who were skilled in irrigation systems. The Sinagua are believed to be related to the Aztec and/or Maya people and were experts in cotton weaving, red clay pottery, and jewelry. They kept dogs and parrots as pets, and wild turkeys as a food source. Throughout the centuries, their dwellings evolved from teepees to intricate adobe structures—some with up to thirty-five rooms, housing hundreds of people—a sign of change from a nomadic lifestyle to a more static one.
Today, there are several Sinaguan sites in the Sedona area: Honanki in the western canyons, Tuzigoot just outside Cottonwood, and Montezuma Castle and Well, located off I-17 in Rimrock and Camp Verde.
Montezuma Castle National Monument protects a set of well-preserved Sinagua cliff dwellings located in Camp Verde dating back to approximately 1100 and 1425 AD. The five-story, 20-room living unit is evidence of an important shift in early American Indian culture from a nomadic to a more settled way of life. The Montezuma Well, a sinkhole nearby, provided the Sinagua people with fresh water, while Beaver Creek nurtured vegetation along its banks. After the Sinagua people left the area, many other Native American tribes lived in Montezuma, including the Yavapai, Hopi, and Zuni, and still celebrate their strong cultural ties with the area.
The Verde Valley receives its water from snowmelt, monsoons, and springs up from ancient sedimentary rocks. In the heart of the valley, a thousand years ago, Siagua people began to build a little hilltop pueblo that grew into one of the largest villages in the area. Now a national monument, Tuzigoot National Monument preserves an 100-room pueblo ruin perched 120 feet above the Verde River, just east of Clarkdale, Arizona.
Legend has it that Spanish explorers discovered gold near the Verde Fault in 1583, but it is malachite—a copper mineral—that gave the Verde Valley its name (“verde” is Spanish for “green”). However, the real treasure in the area was chalcopyrite, which was mined near Jerome. With its brass yellow appearance, chalcopyrite looked like gold but was in fact the most abundant copper ore mineral. In addition, spiritual healers believe that the stone carries transformative energies that align chakras and can assist in changing of habits, routines and lifestyles.
The Mine Museum explores Jerome’s history as a thriving copper-mining town. Peek into the town’s past: walk on the glass viewing platform over a 1918 mine shaft in the nearby Audrey Headframe Park, and visit the home of mining magnate Douglas Mansion in Jerome State Historic Park. In present time, enjoy the beautiful art galleries displaying locally-crafted jewelry and pottery, and have fun peering through colorful handcrafted kaleidoscopes at Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes store in downtown Jerome.
If you’re in the area in late February, you may get the chance to attend the Yavapai-Apache Nation Annual Exodus Day celebrations. The nation commemorates the 1875 forced removal of the Yavapai and Apache people from their land in the Verde Valley and the 1900 return to their homeland.
The Exodus Day event takes place at the Yavapai-Apache Nation Veterans Memorial Park, located below Cliff Castle Casino-Hotel. The event is open to the general public.