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Archaeology and History Sites in Arizona

Besh-ba-Gowah Archaeological Park

Not far from the City of Globe lies the abandoned settlement of Besh ba Gowah. The settlement was inhabited in the 13th and 14th centuries by members of what archaeologists call the Salado culture. Many of the masonry walls that once made up the multi-story buildings on the site remain, albeit in ruined form. The visitor’s centre houses a museum displaying artefacts recovered from the site, including stone, pottery, and woven fabric material.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

This prehistoric site in Coolidge was once a substantial settlement used before the period of European colonisation. Casa Grande was inhabited in the Hohokam period, with the main structure being erected in the 14th century and then abandoned in the mid-15th century. Much of the built environment survives, albeit in a ruined state. Welcoming tourists is a visitor’s centre and a picnic area, with special events taking place throughout the year.

Fort Verde State Historic Park

This park, opened in 1970 through the efforts of local history enthusiasts, preserves space in which the U.S. Army established a fort during the 1870s. Fort Verde played an important role in the Apache Wars, in which the Army clashed with Native American forces, before it was dismantled and sold off in 1891. Several historic buildings remain in situ, including a commanding officer’s house; other 19th century ruins are also in evidence.

Grand Canyon Railway Depot

Finished in 1910, the Grand Canyon Railway Depot was constructed along the line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. This attractive structure is built largely out of logs, and today remains one of only three U.S. railway depots that have been constructed in this fashion. It is located under 100m from the rim of the Grand Canyon itself and has been a recognised National Historic Landmark since 1987.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Located on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation stands the Mission San Xavier del Bac. The mission was founded in 1692 to promote Roman Catholicism among the indigenous people. The present buildings date from the final decades of the 18th century – which make this the oldest European American building still standing in Arizona. Today, the Mission remains an active place of Roman Catholic worship and a popular pilgrimage destination.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Tucked into a cliff face at Cape Verde, visitors can marvel at the rock dwellings established by members of what archaeologists call the Sinagua culture. The settlement was inhabited between the 12th and 15th centuries, with various additions being made to the site over the course of that period. Today, some contemporary Native communities living in the area associate the settlement with ancestral figures and perform various rituals at the site accordingly.

Pueblo Grande Museum and Cultural Park

Located in Phoenix, this important prehistoric site comprises a settlement that was inhabited between the 5th and 15th centuries by individuals whom archaeologists refer to as members of the Hohokam culture. They established an extensive irrigation system in the vicinity, evidence for which can still be seen. Also present is a large platform mound. The site museum contains a range of artefacts recovered from excavations in and around the area.

Riordan Mansion State Historic Park

Located in Flagstaff, Riordan Mansion was built in 1904. Its architect, Charles Whittlesey, designed it in accordance with the Arts and Crafts style. It was designed as a duplex house, home to the respective families of two brothers, the lumber barons Timothy and Michael Riordan. The state took possession of the mansion and its surrounding land in the 1970s, subsequently opening it to the public, who are now able to enjoy this magnificent building.

Tonto National Monument

Two prehistoric cliff dwellings can be found at Tonto National Monument. These were the creations of people whom archaeologists identify with the Salado culture and who lived here from the 13th through to the 15th century. A visitor’s centre is located near to the cliff dwellings and houses a museum in which one can get a closer look at the various artefacts which archaeologists have recovered from the site through excavation.

Wupatki National Monument

Located near Flagstaff, the Wupatki National Monument encompasses a rich array of prehistoric settlement sites spread across a breath-taking Arizona landscape. Various ruined structures can still be seen, distinguished by their use of red-brick Moenkopi sandstone blocks. Erected by Ancestral Puebloan and Sinagua communities, most were built in the 12th and 13th centuries, at which the settlement was largely abandoned; the inhabitants are sometimes argued to be ancestral to the contemporary Hopi.

Tops Tours and Activities in Arizona

Museums in Arizona

Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum

Located in Flagstaff, the Arizona Historical Society Pioneer Museum explores the life and times of pioneering Americans, from the communities who settled the area in the 19th century to the astronauts who trained in the town during the 1960s. Geographically, its focus is on Flagstaff and northern Arizona more widely. The museum occupies the former Coconino County Hospital, built in 1908, with a cabin of the same period reconstructed in the grounds.

Arizona History Museum

One of several museums run by the Arizona Historical Society, the Arizona History Museum in Tuscon devotes itself to the history of this southwestern state. It takes the visitor through the ages, from the period of Spanish colonisation through to Arizona’s mining boom and into the 20th century. Among its exhibits is the rifle used by the Apache resistance fighter Geronimo. Various temporary exhibitions and special events take place throughout the year.

Desert Caballeros Western Museum

The Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg immerses visitors in the world of the old American West. Its focus is on fine art, with a range of paintings and sculptures produced by artists working in this region. The displays also feature a range of other artefacts testifying to the lives of Native communities, early European settlers, and ranchers. In addition, the museum features life-size recreations of Wickenburg streets as they looked in 1905.

Grace Museum of America

Amid the mountains of the Sonoran Desert, in Cave Creek visitors can experience the Grave Museum of America. The former actress Grace Voss Frederick founded the museum in the mid-1980s as a place to collect artefacts that tell the story of American life during the 19th and 20th centuries. Amidst its collection of artefacts is a broad array of Americana, allowing visitors an insight into technological advancement in the country.

Mesa Historical Museum

The Mesa Historical Society launched this museum in 1987. As its name suggests, it focuses on the history of Mesa, a town in the heart of Arizona. The museum occupies the Old Lehi school building, built in 1914, with the added auditorium constructed in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. In the museum’s grounds stands the Little Adobe Schoolhouse, a replica of the 1880s structure formerly used as a school in Mesa.

Mohave Museum of History and Arts

At the Mohave Museum of History and Arts at Kingman, visitors are invited to learn more about the heritage of northwest Arizona. The Daughters of the Pioneers launched the museum in 1961 although the current premises only opened in the 21st century. Displays seek to portray the area’s past from prehistory right through to recent decades, achieved through reference to a broad and varied range of artefacts.

Pioneer Living History Museum

Covering an area of 90 acres in Phoenix, the Pioneer Living History Museum hosts thirty historic buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th century and preserved here for the edification of visitors. These include various residences, a bakery, and a school, all furnished as they would have appeared in their heyday. The museum opened in 1969, established by local people concerned about the loss of their local heritage.

Rosson House Museum

Built in 1895, Rosson House in Phoenix was designed in accordance with the Stick-Eastlake Queen Anne Style. It spent the first decades of its life as a home for wealthier members of the city’s population before falling into disrepair. Since being restored, the house has served as a museum showcasing late 19th century life in the city. The area around the museum, Heritage Square, is one of Phoenix’s more popular visitor destinations.

Sharlot Hall Museum

Based in Prescott, the Sharlot Hall Museum has been operational since 1928, when it was founded by the journalist Sharlot Hall. This open-air museum hosts a range of historic buildings from around Arizona, many of 19th century origin, including Fort Misery, which is the oldest log cabin in the state. The museum also manages a library and archive of use to researchers interested in the history of Arizona.

Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

At Western Spirit, visitors are immersed in the heritage of the American West. Opened in 2015 in a purpose-built structure, the museum hosts a rich variety of displays. These cover various facets of life in the region and reflect the heritage of both indigenous and migrant communities. The museum boasts an impressive collection of historic and contemporary artwork illustrating life out West. Various temporary exhibitions also take place throughout the year.