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Origins of the Verde Valley

- A Brief History of the Heart of Arizona -


The Land

What is now central Arizona has frequently been inundated by water, as part of a shallow sea. Over eons, soil washing from various mountain ranges were deposited, forming layers of material that eventually formed the bands of sandstone, shale and limestone you readily see throughout the Verde Valley.  About 250 million years ago, the land began rising from the waves.  While the highest parts of today’s Colorado Plateau are over two miles above sea level, its southern boundary – the Mogollon Rim – rose to about 6,000 feet.


About 10 million years ago, at the magenta- and orange-hued edge of the Plateau, a fault line developed, running from northwest to southeast; as one side slipped above the other, the Black Hills – including Mingus Mountain – began to rise.  The Verde Valley was born.  Against these hills, lakes developed; the light-colored lime- and siltstone formations near Cottonwood and Camp Verde arose from the deposits in these evaporative lakes. 


About 2 million years ago, these lakes became the modern Verde River as their waters began flowing toward the southeast.  Numerous caves and overhangs developed within the limestone along the many streams which flow into the Verde. Today, the Verde is longest perennial river of Arizona.  It travels through the heart of Arizona and connects to the Salt River – which flows through Phoenix – which joins the Gila River, then the Colorado, and ultimately flows into the Sea of Cortez.


The People

Although the landscape is ancient, humans are a recent addition.  The diversity of climates and landforms has offered a promising future to those who would venture here.  Hohokam, Sinagua, Yavapai, Apache, Spanish and Anglos all represent migrations of people who would make this valley their home.


When people first began to inhabit this land, the climate was more temperate.  Among the many large animals hunted locally were mammoths, mastodons and bison.  Since the last ice age ended, about 11,500 years ago, the region has become warmer and drier.  Arizona’s residents have continually adapted, developing technology that aided survival, from hunting and farming tools to clothing and home-making techniques.  Corn, beans and squash have been grown using the Verde’s water.  Homes have been built into the Valley’s cliff shelters and along its bluffs and streams.  Although not always peacefully and seldom easily, people have lived and loved along the Verde for millennia.


One of only two metals not typically exhibiting a gray or silver color (the other is gold), copper is a relatively plentiful, soft, conductive metal, prized for decorations (e.g., jewelry) as well as tools (e.g., electrical wiring).  Copper ore has been found in many parts of Arizona, but the deposits near present-day Jerome were among the richest ever. 

Local residents mined the ore since long before recorded history.  They revealed the site to early Spanish explorers and to later Anglo settlers.  The scale of mining remained limited until the late-1800s; eventually, an open pit mine was developed north of Jerome’s downtown.  Over 2 billion pounds of copper were eventually extracted from the United Verde mines, contributing to the development of businesses and transport throughout the Verde Valley.

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