Although the Sinagua people moved out of Arizona’s red rock country over 600 years ago, they still speak to us today through the petroglyphs they carved on rocky outcrops, like those found at the V Bar V Heritage Site.
Searching for messages from Arizona’s ancient past
Obviously snowbirds from the Midwest weren’t the first people to land in Arizona.
Various people have lived in this area for thousands of years. However, between 900 to 1350 AD one particular group, known to us today as the Sinagua, left a library of sorts tucked into protected niches in the red rock walls of central Arizona’s Verde Valley.
A good place to try to read some of the books in this library – and step into an ancient world for a moment – is the V Bar V Heritage Site.
Although located near the main highway to Sedona, the site feels far from the hikers, bikers, jeepers, and seekers that converge in the popular heart of Red Rock country. Maybe it’s the gravel road . . . or maybe the Sinagua simply marked this land as theirs forever before slipping away.
More recently this land was part of the sprawling V Bar V ranch. All that remains of property’s ranch house is the stone fireplace bearing the ranch’s brand. However, much of the surrounding land is still a working ranch run by the University of Arizona as an agricultural experiment station.
You are reminded of this part of its past as you circle around that lonely fireplace as you follow the path that runs along the edge of the cottonwoods above the Wet Beaver Creek.
(It’s easy to image cattle grazing in the meadows here.)
The path ends at a low ridge with a protected rock face.
You see the petroglyphs as you approach.
Reading the rocks at the V Bar V Heritage Site
Below a sheltered cliff on the old V Bar V ranch, the Sinagua people shared their stories with each other and with us today.
Over a thousand distinct figures have been identified here. Each was carefully chipped into the rock during the four hundred years or so when the Sinagua lived in the area. While the full meaning of the symbols largely remains obscure, modern Hopi recognize many. That includes a sun dial that still tracks the changing seasons, human figures engaged in a variety of activities, clan symbols, animals, migration symbols, and more, much more.
If you listen carefully, you might even hear the spirits of the Sinagua whispering in the cottonwoods.
Visit the V Bar V petroglyphs
The V Bar V Heritage Site is located off I-17 near Camp Verde, south of Sedona, Arizona. It’s a bit of a drive to get back to it.
A Red Rock Pass or national America the Beautiful pass is required to visit the site. Red Rock passes are available at the site. Make sure you display your pass in your windshield.
These days the site is managed by the Coconino National Forest. Rangers are always on hand to provide information on the site, the people who left marks here, and the meaning of some of the symbols.
V Bar V is open most weekends (Friday – Monday) from 9:30 – 3:00. Keep that in mind and check the site’s hours before driving out. It is not at all accessible at other times – as we discovered on our first attempt to visit.
If you want to learn more about the Sinagua people in general, and the V Bar V site in particular, keep an eye out for the Guide to the Heritage Sites: Coconino National Forest Red Rock District published by the US Forest Service and Friends of the Forest. This booklet discusses the Palatki, Honanki, and V Bar V sites and has lots of photos and detailed information. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be available online anywhere.
Look for it at Red Rock or Coconino National Forest visitor centers.