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Indian Mesa! - Arizona, Native American Ruins
by mark quigley, feature for The Arizona Sportsman's Journl TV (www.azho.com)

UPDATED Indian Mesa Visit

This month I would like to change our focus a bit and visit a ghost village built by Native Americans. Lifestyles were very different but the needs were the same, water and in this case the Agua Fria River were utilized by both. This Indian fort appears on maps by the name of Indian Mesa.

Indian Mesa - Hohokam home atop Indian Mesa. - Photo courtesy of Mr Quigley Photography.com.

It is about 2 miles southeast of Gillette get to this marvelous ruin, travel north on Interstate 17 to exit 235, Table Mesa Road. Turn left crossing over the interstate, then right and follow the dirt road about one mile. Turn left at the Y and follow this road to the Agua Fria River. Park at the river. During low-water periods, it is possible with a 4-wheel drive vehicle to follow the old jeep road (Old Table Mesa Road) toward Humbug Creek. The road turns right (west), winding uphill to a saddle. Be aware, this road is in very poor condition. Park here.

During high water periods follow the west side bank on top, and soon you will intersect Old Table Mesa Road again. Follow the road to the top of a saddle, and at this point you will notice a small trail off to your left. Follow this trail to the top of Indian Mesa. There is only one access point to Indian Mesa because of its steep cliffs. This entrance is on the west side of the Mesa. Carefully climb the remaining 50 or so yards, and you will be atop the mesa.

Immediately you’ll be surrounded by stone-walled houses in very good shape. Indian Mesa is truly a spectacular Indian ruin. Take your time exploring this area. The views from Indian Mesa are simply awesome. Be aware that the cliff edges are unstable; so don’t get too close to the edge. There are many stone-walled houses on the mesa, and a few in-the-ground matates. Pottery shards are scattered all around.

Indian Mesa - Pottery shards and views from Indian Mesa. - Photo courtesy of Mr Quigley Photography.com.

These ruins probably supported as many as 200 people. The houses you see were used for sleeping, storage, and protection during bad whether. The Hohokam spent most of their time outdoors hunting and gathering. Other features near the houses include a granary, storage rooms, and roasting pits. Hohokam people lived as separate family units here on Indian Mesa. When families grew too large for their home, part of the group would establish another residence some distance away. Sometimes when homes became dirty from being lived in for a long time, they were abandoned for a new one, allowing nature to do the housecleaning. After some time, these homes were reinhabited.

At Indian Mesa, villagers made pottery by mixing clay they found along arroyos and sand collected from the Agua Fria River. To prepare the clay, potters first moistened it, then set it aside to allow it to age for several days. Next, the sand was sifted. Then the potters mixed everything together to form a potter’s clay.

Indian Mesa - Views of Lake Pleasant from along the Indian Mesa trail. - Photo courtesy of Mr Quigley Photography.com.

Each clay vessel was formed from a molded clay base by adding coil upon coil of clay. The potter would mold the coils together and then shape them into a pot using a wooden paddle and a stone tool called an anvil. While shaping the pot, the potter might decorate it with red paint made from crushed iron pigments. Many of these pigments were obtained through trade. Using brushes made from leaves or grass stems, the potter would paint on their own designs. Many pots were not painted. All Hohokam pottery was baked in open wood fires. The Hohokam did not have kilns. The fired pottery had many uses, such as for storage, cooking, and serving. If the pot was accidentally broken, it was still useful. They were used for games, scrapes, scoops and ornaments. All in all, making pottery was a very time-consuming process.

Indian Mesa is loaded with pottery shards. Remember to leave Indian Mesa as you found it. Do not take any pottery shards with you. This act is prohibited under state and federal laws. You never know when you might be on Arizona’s Site Steward candid camera show, so behave responsibly. Return the same way you came.


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