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Thu, Sept. 19

Amazing Places: Exploring the Agua Fria National Monument

A petroglyph near Richinbar. (Nigel Reynolds/Courtesy)

A petroglyph near Richinbar. (Nigel Reynolds/Courtesy)


Agua Fria Canyon. (Nigel Reynolds/Courtesy)

An area I haven’t covered so far is the Agua Fria National Monument (NM) – “agua fria” is Spanish for “cold water.” For many people, this NM might seem dull with not much to see. However, I’ve spent many days exploring over the last decade, and there are some gems if you know where to look. I’ve taken my hiking group there on occasion and now it’s your turn to learn!

This wonderful place deserves an introduction because we’ll be going there again and again over the months ahead, to visit the Amazing Places hidden within its acreage.

You will have driven past this NM many times on your way down to Phoenix but maybe not realized what you were passing. This NM was created fairly recently (President Clinton in 2000); it covers over 100 square miles — mainly empty land today. Its western boundary is right next to the interstate for 8 miles — from south of Cordes Lakes down to Black Canyon City. The main entrance is via Bloody Basin Road (exit 259), but be warned! Do NOT travel on this dirt road after rain, or if rain is expected. The mud quickly becomes glutinous and 4WD makes little difference — you’ll probably get stuck, maybe for hours but maybe for days if you’ve gone in many miles.

Over the past 150 years this area has been used for ranching and mining. Going back farther in time, it had a scattered population of Indians, numbered in the thousands, spread out over hundreds of pueblos (villages). Many pueblos were small, but some had over 100 rooms.

Regardless of size, the design was the same — common walls of rock and a flat roof of sticks and mud, with ladders leading down into the individual quarters. The roof was used by families for daily chores and as a playground for the children. Now, the roof is long gone but the walls are often visible — these pueblos have become archaeological sites. The heyday for the Indians was the period between 1250 and 1450 AD (CE); why they left isn’t fully understood but probably an extended drought. As well as the ruins, there are hundreds of petroglyphs awaiting your discovery (see photo above).

The Agua Fria River runs north to south, dividing the Monument into an east and west half (Black Mesa and Perry Mesa). Over time, south of Badger Springs, the river has cut its way down, forming a 500-foot deep canyon as it advances south toward Black Canyon City. The inset photo here shows this imposing canyon, which you’ll see on your visit to Richinbar, today’s Amazing Place.

Richinbar was an old mining town that produced thousands of ounces of gold and silver, worth over $6 million at today’s prices. The company went bankrupt in 1933 — what’s left are a few small ruins and the remnants of their mining operations. Water was very important for mining — many large metal tanks remain, and one large reservoir at the highest point. The water to fill this reservoir came from the Agua Fria River, 800 feet below here. I’ll describe this interesting operation in a later article — it involved miles of pipeline.

Well, I’ve used up my space with this introductory article, but fortunately I have a BLOG that includes more photos, how to drive to the trailhead, and a description of the hike (about 3 miles round trip) to see all of the sights (and sites). Visit Allow 3 to 4 hours to do this place justice — take a picnic lunch to eat overlooking the canyon below. If you enjoy the NM, consider supporting the Friends of this monument, a non-profit organization (see BLOG).

Nigel Reynolds was born in England and has lived in Arizona for 40 years, and in Prescott for over 20 years. “Exploring is in my blood,” he says. To see today’s or previous articles with the photos in color, visit and enter “Amazing Places” in the search-bar at top right — you’ll need to be a subscriber.

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