Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 1: Montezuma’s Well

Distance: 0.5 miles
Elevation: 3,800 ft
Elevation gain: 100 feet up stairs to the top and down to the irrigation ditch

Montezuma's Well from far side. The cliff dwelling is in the recess in the upper left.

Montezuma’s Well is a large limestone sinkhole formed when an underground cavern collapsed. 700 years ago its continuous flowing water, up to a million gallons a day, was used to irrigate Sinagua fields. It is 368 feet across and 55 feet deep. There are several cliff dwellings in the walls and lots of moss in the water. This desert oasis is home to some ducks and several creatures that live nowhere else.

The algae in the water feeds a tiny shrimp, which in turn feeds a small water going scorpion as well as some nocturnal leeches that congregate at the bottom of the well and rise to the surface at night to feed. Scorpions? Leeches? Gee, let me just go for a swim…NOT!

More dwellings at the base of the well

The well has a C02 concentration that 600 times higher than normal. This anaerobic environment precludes fish although they live in the nearby stream. We saw a Bald Eagle fly over the well while were there and wondered what it could eat in the area. Perhaps there is sufficient fish in the stream to keep it happy.

A Fence Lizard (Sceloporous sp.).

The early Caucasian explorers, who found the ruins of Sinagua culture including Montezuma’s Well, thought the Indians were Aztec, which is why the site is misnamed.

Ruins on the side of the well

There is a side trail that goes down the outside of the well to where the irrigation ditch started. It was quite a technical feat to dig through the sinkhole to get the water flowing. There are also several pit houses along the upper edge of the well.

Irrigation ditch where it comes out of the base of the well

I would not go way out of my way to see this site, but if you are going to the V-bar-V ranch to see the petroglyphs, you might as well drop by. It is only a few miles up back up county road 618, right before I-17. From the well, you can head the 11 miles to Montezuma's Castle with only a short jog on I-17.

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