I usually try to write & post in chronological order. That isn’t working for me these days. The malaise I attribute to life in a pandemic means that I took many photos and could never bring myself to write. My vacation to Arizona has refreshed me and ‘cleared my cache’ so I can again look on the bright side of life. I’m trying to catch up with all those old photos and dreading trying to put my love of Sedona in words. Sedona is beyond words. I may simply end up with nothing but pictures. In the meantime I’m going to stick my toe in the metaphorical water and write about Montezuma Well.
My son and I had seen the signs for Montezuma Well last year on our way to Sedona. It tickled our fancy and made us imagine ridiculous scenarios for what it might be. We didn’t know if it was a place or a thing or both. It reminded ME of that town along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, that is named Jersey Shore. Montezuma (or more properly Moctezuma II) was an Aztec ruler. The Aztecs were not in northern Arizona. Yet there along Rt 17, as we headed up to Flagstaff, was that sign for his well. We couldn’t stop on our way north, but we did have time to stop on our way south.
Montezuma Well, together with Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot, is part of the National Park Service. They are the remnants of the Sinagua people. The well began forming more than 10,000 years ago from snow atop the Mogollon Rim. That snow melted through all the rocks over the millenia, but hit a vertical wall of volcanic basalt. This volcanic basalt acts as a dam, forcing the water back towards the surface. Ultimately (remember – millenia), it formed the sinkhole that is there today. The water remains at a constant temperature (I believe around 74 F) and near constant volume. You’d think this was a wonderful source for drinking but it is highly carbonated with a very high arsenic content. Quoting Wikipedia: “At least five endemic species are found exclusively in Montezuma Well: a diatom, the Montezuma Well springsnail, a water scorpion, the Hyalella montezuma amphipod, and the Motobdella montezuma leech — the most endemic species in any spring in the southwestern United States.” (Yes, I had to look up ‘endemic’ – native and restricted to a certain place.) Wikipedia says the water was used for irrigation, which I find puzzling because of the arsenic. I need to research why the plants do not absorb the arsenic.
Besides those 5 endemic species, we saw a lot of ducks having a peaceful time paddling about the water. As always, the view from the top of the well is beautiful – flat land stretching out to looming mountains. There are 2 paths but only 1 is open currently – the path down to the swallet. (I learned a lot of new words on this adventure: swallet = sinkhole.) From the top that path looked steep and a bit rocky but I decided to brave it anyway. I’m glad I did because the top view was misleading. Although it is somewhat steep, it was easily manageable – no need to traverse it on my tush. 🙂
There are interesting rocks, and views of the dwellings on the far wall, and finally you arrive at water level. There you can see where the water drains from the sinkhole into a small cave to appear above ground outside the formation to provide irrigation. There was a volunteer ranger there as well to answer questions. Down at water level it is delightfully cool and shaded, with a bench for resting. There are at least 2 petroglyphs visible on the rocks.
Since the longer trail is currently closed for safety reasons, our visit was perhaps 30 minutes in total. We hiked to the top, read the signs, took pictures, and then hiked down to water level. We spent a few moments there chatting with the ranger and taking photos, and then hiked back up. Although it’s a short stop, it is well worth the time. We agreed that we needed to leave more time our next time heading north so we could see Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot.