Sacred Ground Sacred Water At Montezuma Well near Sedona Arizona

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well Near Sedona ArizonaOn an arid and sometimes harsh landscape, water in all its forms is a sacred element. It is something to be worshiped, solicited, celebrated; an element of birth and rebirth, sustaining all life in a landscape dependent upon rains that seem to fall from one year to the next on the whims of gods, where prayers and ceremonies around water are a way of life and oral traditions about its sacred purpose are carried forward generation to generation.
Without water, existence is no longer a possibility.

Find upon that same landscape an ever-flowing source of water, a bottomless well seeping up from the core of Mother Earth, the flow constant and steadfast. A well unaffected by season or drought or the changing faces of people living off the land for hundreds of years.

Ruins Above Montezuma Well Near Sedona ArizonaPrehistoric ruins above Montezuma Well >>

Such a place would be holy ground, the water sacred. Created as an accident of nature 11,000 years ago, Montezuma Well is a large sinkhole with a continuous flow of water seeping up through vents in the limestone. It was once home to Sinaguan farmers who used the water to irrigate their fields, and that today, supports aquatic life that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Ernest Gerics At Montezuma Well Near Sedona Arizona<< Ernest Gerics, volunteer, greets visitors to Montezuma Well

Ernest Gerics is a large man, his tall frame filling the window of the cabin that serves as Montezuma Well’s headquarters. He’s a friendly guy, greeting visitors with a smile, pointing out the literature rack, and answering questions.  He volunteers his time and enthusiastically shares his knowledge of the place and its prehistory. I’m interviewing him on a sunny morning, asking my questions in between his greetings to the passersby.

People Admire The View At Montezuma Well Near Sedona Arizona
<< Visitors standing at the rim of Montezuma Well

More than one visitor appears confused as they approach the cabin.  Several people have arrived expecting to see Montezuma Castle (a cliff dwelling located at the National Monument several miles further south down the freeway.)  Others have passed through Lake Montezuma on their way to the well – a small rural community with a man-made pond embellishing the golf course. A few visitors have arrived on purpose, but the small parking lot is not full by mid-morning.

Partially reconstructed ruins at Montezuma Well
Partially reconstructed ruins at Montezuma Well.

Ruins At Montezuma Well Near Sedona Arizona
Ruins on the inner wall at Montezuma Well.
 
Over 1.5 million gallons flow out of the well daily. It’s the water and the constant flow that define the sacredness of this place.

I’m drawn to Montezuma Well for this very reason.  Even on the days when it is most crowded, there is still an aspect of solitude to be found, and with that, an opportunity for reflection.  Some of the ruins have been reconstructed, but others remain in mounds as they have stood for centuries.

The reflection of the rim and blue, blue sky on the water creates magical Kodak moments, and I am always speculating about who among the prehistoric people was allowed to reside in the ruins built into the internal walls above the well.

Water Flows Through A Swallet Into A Canal At Montezuma Well<< Swallet At The Well

Water from Montezuma Well flows through cracks in the limestone traveling underground for about 150 feet and emerging in an outlet, which prehistoric farmers channeled into a canal to irrigate their crops. Water takes seven minutes to flow through the swallet and out to the canal. 



Montezuma Well was inhabited from 600 – 1400 AD, first by Hohokam, a prehistoric culture more closely associated with the southern part of the state. The Sinaguan culture is believed to have moved into the area around 900 AD. Farming, supported by irrigation from the well, was conducted south of the monument. According to the NPS literature, the ruins found along the internal walls of the well and in mounds along the pathway were built during the 300 years prior to abandonment in 1400 AD.

Canal At Montezuma Well
The canal built by prehistoric farmers 1000 years ago.

Beaver Creek Runs Alongside Montezuma Well Near Sedona Arizona
Wild columbine grows along Beaver Creek below Montezuma Well.
 
The actual source of the upward flow remains undiscovered.
Modern Puebloan cultures such as the Hopi and Zuni consider Montezuma Well as most sacred and used it as a birthing place for generations.  According to Gerics, water is still collected from the well and used as the first water in washing a newborn child.

More recently Buddhist Taoists have adopted Montezuma Well as a place for meditation Gerics explained, and it is beginning to enjoy an international following as a sacred place. He also has a group of “regulars” who come to the well for healing and swear by the medicinal properties to be found by simply breathing the air.  The Hopi continue to conduct sacred ceremonies at the site after hours and on special occasions.

The scientific cause of the Well’s formation is the collapse of the limestone bedrock approximately 11,000 years ago.  Over 1.5 million gallons flow out of the well daily. It’s the water and the constant flow that define the sacredness of this place. The same 1.5 million gallons day in and day out, season after season, year after year.  So far as anyone can tell, the flow remains unaffected by climate change.

As if anticipating the next question, Gerics interjected, “Six colleges have tried to determine the water’s source.”  Tried and failed. The actual source of the upward flow remains undiscovered.

Sycamore At Montezuma Well“The Hopi have a saying," Gerics continued. “The well is a gift from Mother Earth. So why do you care where it comes from?”

Montezuma Well is part of the National Park system in the Verde Valley including Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde and Tuzigoot National Monument in Cottonwood. Other Ancestral Puebloan sites include Honanki Heritage Site and Palatki Heritage Site in Sedona, and the V Bar V Heritage Site on Forest Service Road 618 just past the Beaver Creek Bridge.

For more information about Montezuma Well and Montezuma Castle, call 928-567-3322 or visit www.nps.gov/moca.

Article and photographs by Terree Duncan, Editor. Selected information for the article courtesy of the National Park Service.