Ruins of the Arizona Verde Valley

As a photographer who has lived in California since the late 1970s, I greatly appreciate and enjoy all the Golden State has to offer in regards to the wealth of diverse photographic opportunities, from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Redwood Forests, to the deserts and rugged Pacific Coast. That said, one of my favorite states to visit and photograph is the spectacular Grand Canyon State of Arizona, which is ripe with photographic pickings. Perhaps it is because I feel deeply connected to Native American art and culture and love to visit the ancient ruins, or that I love to shoot old ghost mining towns, which are plentiful in Arizona. Whatever the reason, there is simply something very alluring about this great state, from the redrock country surrounding Sedona, to the high country of the Mogollon Rim and the great deserts beyond.

In recent years I took an extended trip to the Prescott region in north central Arizona and ended up with hundreds of Camera Raw files to process, as is typical in such scenic areas. Although I have post-processed many images in the past from this wonderful trip, I have only recently gotten around to working on many others. Interesting how we photographers cherry pick what we feel are the best images to work up initially, then, after going back and reviewing our catalogs much later, find more treasure troves.

View of Storm Over Verde Valley From Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Approaching Storm – Tuzigoot National Monument

Many people are familiar with ancient Native American ruins such as Mesa Verde in Colorado; Chaco Canyon in New Mexico; and Canyon de Chelly in northeast Arizona. However, few are aware of three wonderful ancient sites near the towns of Jerome, Clarkdale, Sedona, and Camp Verde: Tuzigoot National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, and Montezuma Well. This post will focus on images I shot during a thunderstorm from atop Tuzigoot National Monument, just east of the charming small town of Clarkdale, Arizona. The Tuzigoot ruins sit proudly on a hilltop overlooking the spectacular Verde Valley not far from the historic ghost mining town of Jerome. As with all urbex photography (images of abandoned structures), provocative questions arise such as: Who were these people? Why and how did they live here? Why did they leave? Where did they go?

Storm Over Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

We Lived Here

Tuzigoot is an ancient pueblo (village) comprised of 42 acres built by the Sinagua, a Native American people who flourished in the area for centuries, long before Columbus claimed to have discovered the New World. According to information from the National Park Service, Tuzigoot is an Apache word meaning ‘crooked water.’ The ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument were named by an Apache member of the excavation crew, referring to nearby Pecks Lake, a cutoff meander of the Verde River. The pueblo, first built around A.D. 1000, consisted of 110 rooms housing around 250 people and included second and third story structures. It sits on the summit of a ridge comprised of limestone and sandstone with sweeping views of the Verde River and Verde Valley. You can see all the way to the town of Jerome and its old quarry from atop the ridge.

The ruins at Tuzigoot incorporate very few doors. Instead, they use trapdoor type openings in the roofs and ladders to enter each room. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles, who traded for shells from the coast and macaws from the south. For unknown reasons, these people left the area around A.D. 1400. Scientific data, however, indicates that rainfall was marginal during those times. In addition, soil nutrients may have been depleted after many years of planting crops.

Storm Over Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

The Remains of the Day

The monument is located on land once owned by United Verde/Phelps Dodge Mining. The corporation sold the site to Yavapai County for $1 so that the excavation could be completed under the auspices of federal relief projects. The County in turn transferred the land to the Federal Government. Tuzigoot was excavated and stabilized from 1933 to 1935 by archeologists Louis Caywood and Edward Spicer of the University of Arizona, with funding from the federal Civil Works Administration and Works Project Administration. In 1935–1936, with additional federal funding, the ruins were prepared for public display and a Pueblo Revival-style museum and visitor center was constructed. This museum is filled with many wonders and definitely worth taking time to visit. Afterward, be sure to visit the Verde Canyon Railroad in nearby Clarkdale and have a bite to eat at one of the Mexican restaurants.

Storm Over Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona

Cloud Dance Over Tuzigoot Ruins

Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Tuzigoot Ruins as a U.S. National Monument on July 25, 1939. The Tuzigoot National Monument Archeological District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The ruins are surrounded by the tailings pond of the former United Verde copper mine at Jerome. The tailings have recently been stabilized and revegetated. If you are traveling in the vicinity of Sedona or Jerome, I highly recommend adding Tuzigoot National Monument to your list of places to visit. As mentioned above, when I arrived at Tuzigoot there was a huge storm rolling in. For a time I had to take cover inside one of the pueblo rooms to wait out the merciless rainfall, something that would have been most welcome back in the days of the Sinagua people.

Storm Over Verde Valley, Arizona

Desert Crossroads in Storm

I got completely soaked, but thankfully had protection for my camera, lenses and tripod. After the rain stopped, I climbed to the highest possible vantage point, where I was treated with spectacular views of the grand Verde Valley. The cloud formations that afternoon were unlike any I have ever seen. And the light beams were piercing the dark, roiling clouds in the distance. The experience was nothing short of mystical. As I process more images, I will add them to this post. Hope you enjoy the photographs. All are HDR bracketed images. In another post, I will cover my visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument, so check back for more coverage of Native American ruins.


Little House of Horrors

As most of my friends know, I am completely smitten with shooting abandoned and derelict structures, a photography genre known as ‘Urban Exploration’ or just plain Urbex. From abandoned factories and decaying mental institutions to decommissioned military bases and old ghost towns, these historic structures are very atmospheric and possess a highly palpable emotional energy. In my opinion, the best way to visualize what our civilization will look like hundreds of years from now is to explore our ruins today. Urban exploration has become all the rage these days, and while some explore these ruins simply to soak up the cool atmosphere, photographers revel in documenting what occurs when nature takes over.

As a person who utilizes the digital technique of HDR (high dynamic range) photography, I am able to combine multiple exposures of the same scene – some overexposed, some normal as metered, and some underexposed – that are then combined into one large digital file and processed using special software. This results in great detail throughout the entire image, from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights, with an unmatched tonal range and color gamut, something never before possible when shooting with film (analog). The classic dilemma of whether to expose for the highlights or shadows is no longer an issue.

Abandoned Trailer With Deformed Doll Adjacent to Old Sugar Mill Factory, California

A Touch of Trash

For some strange reason, certain graffiti artists and urban explorers who visit these decaying structures often leave behind very creepy objects and dolls, which are placed in locations to maximize their shock and horror. In recent months I have been exploring an abandoned sugar mill and its surrounding grounds, containing structures from odd evaporation towers to truck weighing stations. On one occasion as I was approaching the old factory from a different vantage point, a psychedelic, day-glow blue trailer came into view. It still stands proudly – adjacent to a huge pile of rotting, commercial, Paul Bunyan-sized tires and a Porta-Potty.

Abandoned Trailer Near Old Sugar Mill Factory, California

Trailer Trash

As I got closer, I began to set up my camera and tripod with much glee. My eager anticipation soon morphed into dread, as a very creepy figure could be seen standing watch in the rear window of the rotting trailer. At first I thought it was a diminutive and disfigured person, but soon realized some troll had placed a very creepy doll inside the trailer. I named this image “A Touch of Trash,” which is appropriate given the degree of detritus in and around the trailer. I am still deciding what to name the creepy old doll. Suggestions anyone?

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