One of my favorite ancient sites in the American Southwest is Tuzigoot, a pueblo ruin located in Arizona’s Verde Valley. Resting atop a 120 foot limestone ridge, which provided the white stones used to construct the pueblo’s many rooms and multistory central tower, Tuzigoot stands against the sky, an outpost of time, a human landscape a thousand years old.
Tuzigoot was originally settled by Hohokam farmers who migrated north from the present day Phoenix area and began farming corn and other crops in the Verde Valley’s rich soil. The Verde Valley also provided salt and other valuable minerals, making it a busy trading center. Around 1000 CE, the Hohokam built a few scattered stone structures on the ridge which would be the future site of Tuzigoot. This ridge was a natural fortress, and gave the Hohokam a wide view of the valley with its winding river, abundant cottonwood trees, and volcanic hills.
In the 12th century, bands of Sinagua from the north began to enter the valley and merged with the Hohokam inhabitants. The Sinagua, who originated on the southwestern frontier of the Anasazi cultural zone, added to the Hohokam houses, creating a many leveled pueblo bearing design influences from the great urban center of Chaco Canyon. Tuzigoot reached its climax in the 13th century, when large numbers of Sinagua left the Flagstaff area fleeing drought and the final, violent eruptions of the Sunset Crater volcano. At this time, the pueblo housed upwards to 500 people.
Perched on its hilltop, Tuzigoot and its high walls protected its dwellers from the 13th century conflicts brought on by drought and population stresses on the valley’s resources. After this time of troubles passed, the pueblo continued to be occupied for another century. But by the 1400’s Tuzigoot was abandoned for reasons that remain one of the mysteries of southwestern archeology. The people of Tuzigoot probably migrated to the northern Arizona highlands, where they joined the Hopi.
A team from the University of Arizona excavated Tuzigoot in the early 1930’s, and today one can wander through its numerous chambers and climb a wooden ladder to the top of its cubical tower, there to see out across the lands that were once verdant with the fields of the Hohokam and the Sinagua.
I wrote a poem after visiting Tuzigoot in 2012. The discovery that the Sinagua buried their dead in the deepest layers of the pueblo inspired the poem’s central imagery.
Underneath the white stone walls
that climb the hill to the summit,
the old pale bones of children rest.
My youngest daughter feels their
voices at her feet, her sister instead
remembers playing in the outer room,
the one that faces west and the long
Verde Valley. A whip snake flows
like water across the pueblo rubble
heading for the shade of a salt bush.
We three watch it vanish into the
shadow, a lost member of the family.
–originally published in Dispatches from the Land of Cinnamon Sun
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Born and raised in upstate New York, John Nizalowski moved to Santa Fe in the mid-1980’s and has ever after lived west of the 100th meridian. He is the author of four books: a multi-genre work entitled Hooking the Sun; two collections of poetry, The Last Matinée and East of Kayenta; and Land of Cinnamon Sun, a volume of essays. Nizalowski has also published widely in a variety of literary journals, most notably Under the Sun, Malpais, Weber Studies, Puerto del Sol, Slab, Measure, Digital Americana, and Blue Mesa Review. Currently, he teaches creative writing, composition, and mythology at Colorado Mesa University. His blog, Dispatches from the Land of Cinnamon Sun, can be found at http://johnnizalowski.blogspot.com/