Once upon a time, many millions of years ago . . .

No much has changed over the years, except for the jet contrails in the sky.

. . . magma from deep within the bowels of the earth, emerged at the surface near a place now called Squaw Peak.  Lava, like water, seeks the lowest lying areas, and so it flowed downstream until it settled on a valley floor and clogged the main waterway.  With increasing amounts of lava piling up, the viscous  flow formed a natural dam, creating a shallow fresh water lake ranging in size from 27 miles long by 15 miles wide.

The outlet.

Fast forward several million more years as the lake bottom fills with limestone from the ever increasing sediments washed down from the surrounding mountains.  Eventually, over an extended period of time, the dam breaks and drains the lake.

Add a few more million years after that while underground streams dissolve and carry away the limestone and form a cavern.  The roof of the cavern, no longer having support, collapses on itself and forms a sinkhole.  In some areas such as the Verde Valley in central Arizona, underground springs fill a sinkhole at a rate of 1.5 million gallons per day. Today, the sinkhole is referred to as Montezuma Well.

The canal at the outlet.

A 300-foot long natural conduit near the bottom of the sinkhole drains into Beaver Creek, keeping the water level constant.  But, 1,400 years ago when the Hohokam people lived in the area, they channeled the water from the outlet to small plots of land to irrigate crops of corn, cotton, beans and squash.

Extended families lived in primitive, one room pit-houses made with a wooden frame built over a pit and covered with brush, and mud from the nearby creek.

Four hundred years after the arrival of the Hohokam to Verde Valley, the Sinaguan people emerged and are thought to have displaced the Hohokam. They used the Hohokam’s canals to irrigate their crops.

The canal then flows to small plots of crops.

Unlike the Hohokam, the Sinaguans built their dwellings in cliff faces, or as freestanding stone houses.  Another difference between the two tribes is that the Hohokam cremated their dead, while the Sinaguans buried their dead nearby; infants, however, were commonly buried in the floors of  Sinauguan homes.

Life expectancy of the Sinaugua people is believed to have been 40 years, and an infant mortality rate of 60%.  The population diminished around 1450 AD.  They may have abandoned the area and merged with the northern tribe of today’s Hopi people.

Further Reading:

 Roadside Guide to Indian Ruins & Rock Art of the Southwest

 Montezuma Well National Monument-audio CD


About © Rita Boehm

Copyright 2015 Rita Boehm. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Photographs, artwork, and/or related text are available for licensing. Contact writer for further information
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