The Agua Fria National Monument, just south of Cordes Junction, harbors hundreds of human habitations spanning thousands of years of Arizona history - and few people have seen it.
Saturday, American Legion Post #122 gave folks a chance to explore some of the monument's offerings by sponsoring an ATV Quad Fun Run to benefit the veterans' organization.
Some 20 people met at the Horseshoe Ranch, a recent acquisition of the Monument, and "4-wheeled" over unimproved roads to Pueblo La Plata on Perry Mesa.
"It's one of the areas that doesn't get visited a whole lot," said Rem Hawes, Agua Fria National Monument manager for the past 5.5 years for the Bureau of Land Management.
Hawes also now serves as field manager over a million acres for the BLM's Hassayampa Field Office.
He said the U.S. designated Agua Fria as a national monument in 2000 to protect it for four main reasons.
1. Natural ecology. It is unique as grassland between the state's southern desert and the northern Colorado plateau, providing habitat for a large herd of pronghorns.
Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Area Manager Justin Ladd, who lives at the Horseshoe Ranch, confirmed that 200-250 pronghorns roam the area.
2. Water. The Agua Fria River and its numerous tributaries are home to several rare species of vegetation and fish.
3. Science and research. Since 2000, more than 30 research protocols have taken place in the monument, with 13 currently ongoing. State university Anthropology and Ecology Departments work in conjunction to study the monument's plants, soils, water quality and archeology.
4. Archeology. Human habitation dates back 3,000 years, including hundreds of pueblo ruins from 700 years ago, when about 3,000 people lived on top of Perry Mesa. By studying ancient agricultural features, rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs), and artifacts such as potsherds, experts learn about a culture's daily way of life.
"It's not what you find, it's what you find out," Friends of the AFNM avocational archeologist Shelley Rasmussen told the group standing on the windy mesa. "From the artifacts found we can tell there was a lot of trading. Hopi Yellow Ware (potsherds) came all the way from Hopi Mesa, but we don't know what they were trading for," Rasmussen said. "A lot of obsidian was found, that's not from here. They (Perry Mesa people) had to have something important enough to come a long way for."
Explorers are welcome at the Horseshoe Ranch and monument, with no admission fee. To get there from I-17, take Exit 259 for Bloody Basin Rd. and continue down the gravel road, about 5 miles to the ranch. Keep in mind that Horseshoe remains a working cattle ranch.