Science

Ecology

Rockin' River Ranch State Park is located in Camp Verde in north central Arizona. The park includes trails and access to the Verde River. Along the river, you will find large Fremont Cottonwood (Populous fremontii), Arizona Sycamore (Planatus wrightii), Arizona Ash (Fraxinus velutina), Cattail (Typha spp.), Netleaf Hackberry (Celtis reticulate), and Goodding Willow (Salix gooddingii). The drier upland areas are home to Mesquite (Prosopis spp.), Canotia tree (Canotia holacantha), Creosote (Larrea tridentata), and Catclaw Acacia (Acacia greggii).

Commonly seen park mammals include Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), Coyote (Canis latrans), Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus sp.), Coues white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus couesi), and Javelina (Tayassu tajacu). The riparian zone near the Verde River provides excellent habitat for a large variety of birds. Learn more about the wildlife at Rockin' River Ranch before your trip to help you identify the animals you may see during your visit!

Cultural History

Water is the most precious resource in the Verde Valley of central Arizona, even though the river flows year-round. The indigenous inhabitants of this semi-arid landscape were experts at hunting, gathering wild plants, dry farming, and agriculture using the gravity flow of irrigation channels or ditches. 

The first people to visit the area were seasonally tracking large game animals. Structures for shelter were temporary as families moved with the seasons.  Hunters first used the atlatl (spear thrower) and dart system for large prey, but this was gradually replaced around A.D. 600 by a lighter and more accurate hunting tool: the bow and arrow. This weapons system allowed hunters to quietly approach smaller game animals like rabbits and birds. 

Another innovation in the Southwest was the introduction of agricultural crops, particularly maize which can be stored for long periods. Maize was first hybridized in Mesoamerica, today’s central Mexico, and quickly spread through North America through trade routes and exchange.  So far, the earliest maize in the Verde Valley, represented by burned cobs, dates to A.D. 500-600. The adoption of ceramics as cooking pots allowed people to make nutritious stews, adding meat and greens to the meal rather than just roasting the day’s hunt over a fire.

Once families had a guaranteed source of food, they were able to stay in one place rather than constantly traveling in search of seasonal plants and animals.

By A.D. 650, people archaeologists call the Sinagua entered the region. Those who inhabited the Camp Verde area are referred to as the Southern Sinagua. They were a dynamic cultural group that expertly used the rich natural resources of the Verde Valley for trade, cultivation, and habitation. Early Sinagua people created dwellings called pithouses—rooms dug partially into the ground and completed with the use of log posts and plant material. These structures used the earth’s natural insulation for coolness in the summer and for warmth in the winter. You can view an excellent example of this type of structure at nearby Montezuma Well. By A.D. 1000, the people were building multi-room pueblos like the ones that can be visited at Tuzigoot National Monument, as well as cliff dwellings like Montezuma Castle National Monument

The Sinagua in this area reached their maximum territorial expansion between A.D. 1150 and 1300. The Verde Valley was largely abandoned by A.D. 1400. This could be due to climate fluctuation in the preceding hundred years which led to disruptions in the surrounding cultures. Another possibility is that the Sinagua people intermarried with the Yavapai and Apache people, leaving descendants here in the Verde Valley today. 

Today, 10 of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized Tribes have ancestral ties to this area, including the Yavapai-Apache Nation, the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe, the San Carlos Apache Nation, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Tonto Apache Tribe, the Zuni Tribe, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the Hopi Tribe, the Navajo Nation, and the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.

An excellent resource to learn more about the cultural history of the area is the Verde Valley Archaeology Center and Museum. Thank you to Anne Worthington, interpretive guide at Tuzigoot National Monument, for her contribution to this cultural history overview.

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