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Arizona Vacations: Montezuma's Well and Verde Valley Petroglyph Site

Updated on March 8, 2016
Montezuma's Well is North of Montezuma's Castle on I-17 in North Central Arizona.
Montezuma's Well is North of Montezuma's Castle on I-17 in North Central Arizona. | Source

Montezuma's Well, Verde Valley Arizona

These cliff dwellings at Montezuma's Well are easy to see from the view area.
These cliff dwellings at Montezuma's Well are easy to see from the view area. | Source
Later visitors to Montezuma's well left graffiti, over 100 years ago.
Later visitors to Montezuma's well left graffiti, over 100 years ago. | Source
You can look right into the cave/storage rooms that were later inhabited by anglo visitors to the area for a time.
You can look right into the cave/storage rooms that were later inhabited by anglo visitors to the area for a time. | Source
The climb down is worth the small effort for the photographic vantage point it gives you.
The climb down is worth the small effort for the photographic vantage point it gives you. | Source

Verde Valley is a Great Arizona Vacation Stop

Montezuma’s Well is another stop on your vacation through the beautiful Verde Valley area of Arizona. Montezuma’s well is a natural sink hole where the Sinagua Indians (also known as the Western Anasazi people) who lived at the pueblos of Montezuma’s castle got their water supply. Montezuma's well is sited on what is now called Wet Beaver Creek, which is a tributary of the Verde River. Montezuma's Well is a beautiful natural source of clean, potable water, but that isn’t the only attraction of this site. A short walk to the view area will show you additional cliff dwellings that are right over the water. Take care at the view area, because parts of the view area are not gated, and the drop to the water below is about 3 stories. I am afraid of heights and open spaces really bother me, but I managed okay at this site by steering clear of the edges.

You can walk or climb down a path to the water, which requires climbing down a stone staircase. At the water’s edge you have a new vantage point from which to photograph the cliff dwellings, and if you are lucky, you might see some brightly colored yellow finches that live in the riparian habitat near the water. If you are able, do make this easy short climb down to the water’s edge. There you will find a small system of natural caves that have been used by the Anasazi and others, and a cool and soothing riparian habitat with cool running water.

The riparian area at the water’s edge is a great area for bird watching. The birds and other wildlife are attracted to the clean and clear water. The shore area at water's edge is a rare riparian habitat and is very well protected from predators by shade trees that grow there.

Follow the short hiking loop and interpretive trail that takes you behind Montezuma’s Well. The walk along the river is pleasant and the view of the rock next to the river’s edge offers a final photo opportunity. The cool trickle of the water and the trees that line the water’s edge are an inviting oasis that you won’t want to leave.

Montezuma's Well Trails

Down by the Water's Edge

The water is clean and flows from its source right near the viewpoint from below.
The water is clean and flows from its source right near the viewpoint from below. | Source
So peaceful and serene. Come visit this sight at daybreak and see and hear some beautiful songbirds.
So peaceful and serene. Come visit this sight at daybreak and see and hear some beautiful songbirds. | Source
V bar V petroglyphs.
V bar V petroglyphs.

V Bar V Petroglyph Site

Every fifth grader in the Arizona public school system is encouraged to make a model of a Native American dwelling. A visit to these historical sites is an excellent way to make history come to life for these young students.

The name V-V Petroglyph Site, as it is named on the forest service map and few signs that show the way, do not stand for Verde Valley petroglyph site as I originally thought, but for the V Bar V Ranch. (The dash is read "bar" in the language of brands and branding irons.) The ranch owners sold the site to the U.S. Forest Service, who kept the name of the ranch.

This site has one of the most, if not the most, extensive collections of known rock art symbols known in Arizona. Petroglyphs are carved into the black patina of the stone cliff face. You will see hundreds of petroglyphs, which archeologists now believe to be some sort of calendar kept by the ancient Sinagua people who inhabited the area until the late 14th century. We stood here wondering at this remarkable site. Were the symbols some part of a Sinaguan rite of passage? A vision quest? Or a calendar system?

The V bar V site is in a remote area about 5 miles down dirt roads. On the way in we passed the enticing Beaver Creek campgrounds, where we finished our road trip with a few fun hours of water play. The petroglyph site is very fragile and roped off. You can take photos but are strongly discouraged from touching the petroglyphs.

At the parking lot a smooth flat path takes you to the petroglyphs. The walk is perhaps 1/4 or 1/2 a mile. A Forest Service volunteer who was there was eager to share information about the site, and volunteered that additional cliff dwellings well known to Verde Valley locals could be found in the Beaver Creek Wilderness, but we weren't prepared with a map and didn't trust ourselves to follow his directions. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon and we had struggled to find our way into the petroglyph site. Other petroglyph sites near Sedona are a little less than an hour's drive away. I strongly encourage you to check at the visitor's center or call the Forest Service phone number if you are going to visit this site to make sure that it will be open during your visit.

Planning Your Day Trip to Verde Valley Arizona

Montezuma's Well is minimally developed, and does not have a welcome center or a gift shop, because the site is considered a part of the Montezuma's Castle Monument. It is about 10 miles north of Montezuma's Castle. You can easily see both sites in one day, and still go to see the V Bar V petroglyph site for a one-day visit. There's plenty to see in two or even three days, with many other sites nearby to explore. Montezuma's Castle is farthest south, so if you are planning to do your trip in one day, I recommend starting there. The rangers at the Montezuma's Castle welcome and information center can answer your questions and provide you with a map to the other sites I mention in this article. Most of the Forest Service's maps and literature are online at their official web sites for Montezuma's Castle, Montezuma's Well, and the V-Bar-V site.

Montezuma's Well is close enough to the town of Camp Verde Arizona to return to town for a lunch at one of the restaurants there. However, if you are planning to head up to the V-Bar-V Petroglyph site after your visit to Montezuma's Well you will want to pack food for the day. Montezuma's Well has primitive toilets and outdoor tables for a picnic. Food and drink is not available for purchase on site. The areas near the ruin are not really suitable for a family picnic, but you can stop at the developed park at the entrance to the site, which stands in a grove of shaded trees and has developed restroom facilities and grass.

When we visited Montezuma's Well in April, the site wasn't exceptionally busy. However, the area near the water's edge is in a fairly small, enclosed space, maybe 25 feet or so. Try to visit early in the day so you can enjoy the cool quiet of this oasis without feeling pressured to "move on."

Pets are not allowed at the V bar V site. Arizona gets hot much earlier than just about everywhere else in the U.S. (with a few exceptions), so please don't bring your small pets to this site.

Lodging and Camping Near Montezuma's Well

If you are planning a hotel stay for your road trip, Camp Verde has several hotels right near the Montezuma's Castle monument. While you are in town you can visit the State Historic Park in town, and enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

Camp Verde has several RV camp sites in town with electricity and water hookups. If you are planning to head west toward Jerome and Tuzigoot Monument, consider a stop in at Dead Horse Ranch state park about 20 miles to the west in Cottonwood Arizona, which has camp sites right next to the Verde river. Verde Valley rests at an elevation of 3100 feet, which is higher than Phoenix, so the air is milder and cooler in the late spring and summer, but the weather still has the potential to get pretty warm. The camp sites at this park offer shade, swimming, additional bird watching opportunities, particularly of raptors like red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons.

For tent campers, the nearest campground to Montezuma's Well and the V-Bar-V petroglyph site is Beaver Creek campground. This campground is maintained by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Coconino National Forest. This campground has only 13 camp sites which are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, and you cannot reserve camp sites here. This is a highly desirable and popular camping area, despite its lack of amenities (see the forest service link for more specific details), so if you plan to camp here, try to do so on a weekday or come prepared with a backup plan. Please note that camping is not allowed in the Beaver Creek Wilderness area outside of the Beaver Creek campground. The U.S. Forest Service has restricted camping in red rock country due land overuse.


Submit a Comment
  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    2 years ago from Houston, Texas

    We have visited Arizona several times through the years and have seen many different areas. One of them was Montezuma's Castle but we did not see the areas you visited. It would take many trips to Arizona to see everything worth viewing. Thanks for sharing these things with us.

  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    2 years ago from Iowa

    Thank you! The Grand Canyon is stunning but these sites are so fascinating when you think about people who lived and adapted to the region. I always enjoy going a little off the beaten path. Sorry you missed it!

  • iijuan12 profile image


    2 years ago from Florida

    We just got back from a trip to the Grand Canyon and saw many of these sites along the way. I wish I'd seen your posts before we went. You've done a wonderful job describing what there is to see! Thank you for the helpful article!

  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    10 years ago from Iowa

    Hi Granny's House, thank you for your comments. Before you do any metal detecting in AZ, please do some research. I know there are internet sites about that sort of thing run by some people who are much more knowledgeable than I am.

    My husband's profession is in museum work and at his last job working at a regional historical museum, we learned that the laws in Arizona regarding metal detecting and historical artifacts (especially where any Native American objects can be found) are quite strict. But that shouldn't slow down your enjoyment of the amazing places here in AZ.

    Thanks so much for your comment and your compliment. I love the landscape here. There's so much to discover in AZ! Cheers!

  • Granny's House profile image

    Granny's House 

    10 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

    Thank you for all the info on places to visit. My sister was born in AZ. My husband ans I will retire there. I can't wait. We want to metal detect.Any ideas?

  • maven101 profile image

    Larry Conners 

    11 years ago from Northern Arizona

    You are welcome anytime...I could turn you loose on the still " unimproved " areas ( how do you improve on nature ? )...I think the Tuzigoot natives used our location for a lookout into the Verde Valley east..they probably had a couple of families living here from the looks of the artifacts we have found ...small, flat stones with carvings of stick men, probably a child's toy or " doll "..?

    You would love watching our local ravens catching the updrafts from the cliff in our back yard... They are simply amazing to watch, soaring, diving, zooming, playing drop the stick and catch it...all the while chattering away and having a ball...Larry

  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    11 years ago from Iowa

    maven101, those are very kind words. How fortunate you are to live in beautiful Verde Valley. Not quite so hot as the Phoenix area and a beautiful landscape so rich in history! Maybe you could post a hub on some of the lesser known petroglyph sites (like when can I come see the ones in your back yard ;) )

  • maven101 profile image

    Larry Conners 

    11 years ago from Northern Arizona

    Great Hub,,!! Very informative and loaded with great pics....We live in Clarkdale and are fortunate to look down on Tuzigoot every morning...very spiritual...Our home is on the Tuzigoot mesa which overlooks the Verde River, Pecks Lake, and the Tuzigoot ruins itself...Its open daily 9am to 5pm...

    We have found petroglyphs and pottery shards all over our property while landscaping...Thank you for this well-written Hub about an area we love so much...Larry

  • wannabwestern profile imageAUTHOR

    Carolyn Augustine 

    11 years ago from Iowa

    Dohn121, you wouldn't be the first to get a bad steak in Vegas! I've never visited the sites you mention but I've seen photos. I can't wait to read your hub and see your photos. Arizona is so geographically diverse. Lots of good hub material here. And most of these sites are so inexpensive anyone can visit them.

  • dohn121 profile image


    11 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

    When I was out in Arizona (taking a break from Vegas after a bad streak) I was able to visit Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire and Mt. Charleston. At the Valley of Fire, their were several mysterious petroglyphs in which were very interesting. I took a few pictures but am now thinking about making hub on it. Thanks again!


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