Pre-Columbian Artifacts Found in Ancient Besh-Ba-Gowah, Arizona
History and Tourist Information
One of my favorite haunts in Arizona is the prehistoric ruins of Besh-Ba-Gowah. These ruins are what is left of a Salado village in eastern Globe, Arizona. The ruins are what remains of a society of ancient Indians not unlike those of the Tonto National Forest Cliff Dwellings. In many ways, it was a sophisticated society, especially as far as architecture and agriculture are concerned. Dwelling near the Pinal Creek, the Salados used to transport water back to their nearby village where a thriving community lived.
Museum and Outdoor Features
As you enter the Besh-Ba-Gowah Archaeological Park in Globe, Arizona on the northeast side of the parking lot, you will immediately see a stone structure, very straight, supporting a roof and windows with headers of native lumber. The first thing to strike you will be the engineering of the walls made of stone. In many ways, I think this civilization may have been more advanced than the later residents residing in the general area, the nomadic Apache tribe. Features within the park are astonishing.
Entering the park on the Northeast side, a visitor will see native cactus, all of which throughout the park are described in terms of biology, uses, and importance to the Salado community. The first of these exhibits will be of the barrel cactus. Without going into great detail, there is one characteristic of the cactus that pioneers and natives alike found very useful. The Barrel tends to lean toward the south, thus giving it the moniker of Compass Cactus. Of course, you can see right away that this was a valuable piece of knowledge. If you know south, you also know north, east, and west.
Farther along the visitor trail (created by the best knowledge of archaeologists), you will see a number of rectangular spaces outlined by rocks. These help to give the visitor an idea of how large the community actually was. It had many rooms, approximately 400. As you walk through the ruins you see what we would call homes, craft rooms, and then storage rooms. Each has its own characteristics and are described in detail at the park.
The ruins have been "stabilized and reconstructed". This means that some of the room walls have been worked on to prevent further erosion and destruction, while the artifacts discovered at the sites gave archaeologists insight into the nature of the buildings. Archaeologists then rebuilt some of the area to demonstrate the unique building knowledge that these native Americans had. A survey of the photos to above will provide a taste of what you will see at Besh-Ba-Gowah.
I learned in Globe, AZ that Besh-Ba-Gowah means "place of metals". The Apaches named the ruins thusly because Globe was a mining town. First, there was the hunt for silver and gold, and when that ran out there was the search for copper. The town credits much of its success to the mining of copper to this very day. Globe in particular, and Pinal County in general, are some of the richest areas in the world for copper.
The next feature you will see is a Salado living quarter (1225 to 1400 AD). Inside these quarters you will see a ladder leading to the roof, a place where community spent much of their time. The opening (hatchways) at the top of the ladder was made of reeds and a coat of mud. There are noticeably few openings to these buildings (windows or doors). Walls slightly more than 1 foot thick provided insulation. Another interesting aside is that floors in adjacent rooms were at different levels. You might be standing on a floor that is a couple feet deep, whereas the next room might be at ground level - the reason is still unknown.
As you walk along you will see an outdoor area with pits that are stone-lined. It is speculated that these were used for roasting or storage. This area, dubbed an activity area, was shared by multiple families for cooking. Much of the life of these Salado people was oriented outside.
An area close by referred to as the plaza was a place for people to congregate for spiritual activities, festivals, ceremonies, etc. It is laid out meticulously.
Finally, after traveling halfway through the park, there are examples of storage rooms and mounds. The storage rooms appear to have had no windows. The mounds were huge rectangular collections of rock and earth that could be two stories tall. These mounds have been found at other Arizona sites. Homes were even built on top in some locations, providing evidence that individuals of high esteem lived there.
This has been just a taste of what can be seen at Besh-Ba-Gowah. At the end of the tour path is a lovely park center housing many of the pottery, tools, and weavings discovered during excavation. It is divided into three sections. One section is for viewing a wonderful video that brings the Salado community history to life. Another section is a gift shop. The last room houses the antiquities. A $5 fee is charged for entrance to the video and artifact room. If you choose not to visit the two rooms requiring the fee, Besh-Ba-Gowah is entirely free. A donation box is at the end of the trail.
Connected to Besh-Ba-Gowah is a botanical garden, not to be missed. It is lush, tended to with great care. A host of information is available about desert plant life.
Arizona is a state with many, many museums and historical and natural sites. Not all are promoted the same way. Perhaps not as well known as the Grand Canyon and other spots, Besh-Ba-Gowah is a tribute to the Pre-Columbian dwellers, modern-day archaeologists, and people of Globe who had the vision to preserve these ancient dwellings. It ranks high on my list of things to see in the Salt River, Arizona area.
Pinal County, Arizona Tourist Spots
Of the many sites to see in Eastern Arizona, which have you visited?
My previous articles have led tourists from Highway 188 to a number of destinations in Arizona. The directions I provide now, so that tourists can enjoy a prehistoric ruin unlike any in the United States, will accommodate visitors from Phoenix or the "Valley" and visitors coming down Highway 188 from Payson, AZ.
Follow Highway 60 from Phoenix east to Globe. Once you are in Globe, keep traveling on 60 and notice a train trestle at the junction of Broad Street and Highway 60. Go past this spot not far and you will see a green and white sign on the right side of the street pointing left to Besh-Ba-Gowah. Turn, and from this point on there are signs posted very close to each other which direct you along the Pinal Creek and then up a hill. The ruins are at the top of the hill.
If coming south on ASR 188, turn left at the junction of ASR 188 and ASR 60. The directions from the junction are the same as above. Stay on 60 just past the Broad Street junction, then turn left and follow the green and white signs.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 John R Wilsdon