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Agua Fria National Monument

Agua Fria area in Arizona. Christine Tincher, Bureau of Land Management.
Agua Fria area in Arizona. Christine Tincher, Bureau of Land Management.
Established: 2000
Location: 40 Miles North of Phoenix, Arizona
Size: 70,000 acres

Special Features

At its peak between 1250 CE and 1450 CE, the Agua Fria National Monument in central Arizona was home to several thousand people. This prehistoric settlement today is called Perry Mesa, and it contains more than 450 documented sites.

Visitors can see massive basalt pueblos, some with as many as 100 rooms, and many smaller habitations. Stone forts, extensive terraced agricultural fields and an enormous array of stunning rock art attest both to the threats facing the people who lived in the Agua Fria area and to their skill as artists and farmers. Petroglyphs of water birds, scratched into cliff faces, suggest the area may once have had abundant water.

Protecting Agua Fria

Vandalism is a serious problem at Agua Fria National Monument. Overgrazing and off-road vehicle use also damage Agua Fria's rich desert grassland, riparian vegetation, archaeological sites, and wildlife, and the water quality of the Agua Fria River. As suburban Phoenix continues to grow, preserving the semi-desert grassland and the rich river basin habitat of Agua Fria becomes ever more imperative.

A Management Plan for Agua Fria

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing a management plan for Agua Fria through a public process right now. A variety of different management approaches are under consideration; none minimize roads or bar them completely from sensitive wildlife areas, or preserve areas with wilderness qualities from impacts like off-road vehicle use. The NLCS coalition is urging the BLM to strengthen the management plan; the next opportunity for public comment will likely be November 2004. To receive alerts about how to protect Agua Fria or other parts of the NLCS, click here.

More About the Monument

Agua Fria National Monument encompasses 71,000 acres of grassy, semi-desert mesas; cutting through the mesas is the cottonwood and willow-shaded canyon of the Agua Fria River and its tributaries. Abundant wildlife thrives in the Monument, including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, white-tail deer, javalina and mountain lions. Small mammals, neotropical birds, fish, and amphibians and reptiles like the Gila Monster add to the riches of this ecosystem. A visitor may even see the occasional elk or black bear.

The Society for American Archeology has praised the Monument's "rich, intact archeological records that... encompass substantial portions of prehistoric social systems." Indeed, Agua Fria tells a rich story about the lives of the people who inhabited the area thousands of years ago.

Both the Hopi and the Yavapai (Apache) People consider the land important to their cultural history. The Monument also holds evidence of more recent, nineteenth century history: Basque sheep camps, historic mining ruins and military activities are of further interest to the careful explorer.


Arizona Wilderness Coalition
The Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter

Updated June 2004