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Tuzigoot - Ancient Sinagua Ruins in Arizona

Deanna Keahey  ·  Oct 20, 2008  ·  13 Comments

Adventure photo - Ruins of a Sinaguan town, abandoned centuries ago:

Walls of Tuzigoot

Walls of Tuzigoot


Not far from Sedona, Arizona, lie the ruins of Tuzigoot, an ancient Sinagua town that was abandoned centuries ago.

Tuzigoot National Monument (pronounced "too-zee-goot") is part of the southwest US's mysterious history. This small hilltop town was built by the Sinagua people about a thousand years ago, and there's so much we don't know. We don't know what they called themselves, or called this place. We don't know why they left, or where they went.

All the names we use would be foreign to them. Spanish explorers named these ancient people Sinagua "without water" since so many of their ruins were in dry, desert locations. The Apache named this site Tuzigoot "crooked water", since it was by a bend in the river.

The people started building Tuzigoot about a thousand years ago. Generations of Sinaguans (or whatever their own name was) lived here, expanding the pueblo buildings over a period of 400 years. And then they were gone.

As you walk through the ruins, you can imagine it full of life. About 200 people lived here at its peak. The hilltop would have been full of people talking, children laughing, everyone going about their daily business. I can picture the women grinding corn in the plaza, exchanging gossip and tales about their children. The men would be out hunting, hoping to return with a rabbit, deer, or other meat for the family. Kids would be kids -- surely they had more chores and work responsibilities than children now do, but I bet they were running around yelling and laughing and getting into trouble back then, too. Some of the older folks would be complaining about toothache (a common problem in those days, with no dental care).

When you've been living in a town for centuries, why pick up and leave? It's one thing for some of Tuzigoot's young people to take off for another nearby town. We know the Sinagua had an extensive trade network, and must have met people from other places. But why would everyone leave?

Tuzigoot was on top of this hill for 400 years -- longer than the US has existed. It's far longer than most of our present towns and cities have been around. So why would everyone leave?

This story, often called "the abandonment" is a recurring theme throughout the southwest. The great Anasazi cities at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon were abandoned, as were many others throughout their realm. The Sinagua did the same thing.

View from the Sinaguan ruins at Tuzigoot

View from the Sinagua ruins at Tuzigoot

What makes Tuzigoot especially puzzling is that the location here seems ideal. As you can see in this photo, there's plenty of greenery around here.  By a bend in the river, with a small lagoon and marsh, this place is practically an oasis in the desert. Why leave this prime spot and travel across the hostile desert to who knows where?

Theories abound as to why they left, and where they went.  That could be a whole series of posts on its own!  Right now, there's more mystery than solid fact, and that's part of what makes Tuzigoot so fascinating.

I'm in Sedona right now, on our women's trip to Sedona. We visited Tuzigoot yesterday, and it's such a cool place. A ranger here told me once that he believes we will eventually solve the mysteries through more advanced archaeological techniques. In the meantime, it makes you wonder... :-)

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Categories: Arizona · Sedona · Travel photos
Posted from:   Sedona, AZ      Photo credit:   Deanna Keahey

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 On Da Road // Oct 20, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Great timing .. I am actually in Camp Verde and was going to head to Tuzigoot tomorrow. I posted yesterday on the Fountain Creek drive between Camp Verde and Payson .. another place to check out when in Central Arizona.

    Thanks for the post.

  • 2 Deanna Keahey // Oct 20, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Cool! Glad the timing worked out for you.

    I'll check out your post on Fountain Creek, too. I'm always happy to find out more about Arizona travel spots. Thanks for your comment!

  • 3 Kim // Oct 22, 2008 at 6:19 am

    Wow, a lot of history seems to be associated with Tuzigoot! I would imagine that being there and taking in all of the surroundings must be quite an amazing experience.

  • 4 Marlena // Oct 22, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    This is fascinating. It's funny how we often think of ancient ruins as existing in faraway places like Machu Picchu, and don't necessarily realize what exists so much closer to home. The next time I get a change to go to Sedona I will definitely visit Tuzigoot.

  • 5 Deanna Keahey // Oct 24, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Marlena - You're right! We don't need to travel to other countries and continents to find fascinating history. There are plenty of cool places here too.

    The Southwest US is full of history, with lots of ruins dating back many centuries. I think with the state of the economy, more people might end up exploring the US this coming year, and hold off on Machu Picchu and other far-flung destinations a little bit longer. There's lots to see here, too!

  • 6 ldsims // Oct 25, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    the history there is so overwhelming. It makes you wonder did they actually leave or did something else happen

  • 7 Deanna Keahey // Nov 1, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Hi ldsims - Good question. One theory is that they were decimated by some epidemic. It's possible, but they haven't found the evidence to support it.

  • 8 Mesa-Verde » Tuzigoot - Ancient Sinagua Ruins in Arizona // Nov 7, 2008 at 5:34 am

    [...] Tuzigoot - Ancient Sinagua Ruins in ArizonaWhy leave this prime spot and travel across the hostile desert to who knows where? Theories abound as to why they left, and where they went. That could be a whole series of posts on its own! Right now, there�s more mystery than solid … [...]

  • 9 Build a Deer Stand, Build a Deer Blind // Feb 11, 2009 at 5:29 am

    WOW, made me wonder how much history there is still to be explored about our own country. Brilliant article. Hope that someday we will be able unravel all these mysteries.

  • 10 Deanna Keahey // Feb 11, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    I don't know how much we'll be able to unravel, and how much will remain mystery forever. It's fascinating, though!

  • 11 sms advertising // Feb 16, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Amazing isn't it. I've always been amazed of the technology used in old times. Some they can explain some they can't. Really fascinating.

  • 12 Veterinarian // Feb 16, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Yup, really fascinating. It's amazing to think that some of the technology used then sometimes surpasses the newest technology we have nowadays. Simply amazing. Anyway, thanks for sharing. cheers

  • 13 Graco Car Seats // May 20, 2009 at 6:20 am

    Awesome photos. I love the nature. I can't take my eyes off them. Great view. I'd love to visit Sinagua Ruins. Next time I visit Arizona I'm definitely going there. Thank you for sharing the information with us.

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