Exploring the Sinagua Driving Circle

On a sweltering day in April, when the sun was burning in the sky with not a single cloud for cover, Peter Pilles, archaeologist for the Coconino National Forest, led a personalized van tour of the “Sinagua Circle.” Sinagua Circle is an informal name given to a circular area bordered by three Verde Valley waterways—Verde River to the southwest, Clear Creek to the east and Beaver Creek to the north and west. This loop, brimming with archeological artifacts, is believed to have been important to the Sinagua Indians who lived in the Verde Valley from around 800 to 1425 A.D

The hot day helped underscore Pilles’ main point: the Sinagua Indians planned their life around the area’s waterways, because in the desert, life would be impossible without a reliable water source.

According to Pilles, the Southern Sinagua Indians relied especially heavily on Beaver Creek, which provided the nucleus for a thriving agricultural society. They produced a surplus of food—enough to not only feed themselves but also to develop arts, crafts and architecture through profitable trading with the Northern Sinagua Indians in the Flagstaff area and other tribes.

Pilles’ annotated tour included stops to examine Native American artifacts, ruins, petroglyphs, dwellings (built with astonishing regularity—1.8 miles apart) and agricultural sites with dry farming and irrigation. Many of these same sites were later important to Verde Valley pioneers, who also developed similar trade routes and settled in forts around the rivers.

The tour was a pilot for what Pilles believes can be a fascinating driving tour of the Verde Valley for visitors interested in history, archeology, ancient agricultural techniques and Native American art and culture.

Pilles envisions the tour could encompass more than a dozen sites including: The Verde River/Beaver Creek Confluence, Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, Canals from Montezuma Well, Lawrence Crossing Ancient Agriculture, Red Tank Petroglyphs, and more.