The largest known “rock art” site in the Verde Valley is the V Bar V Heritage Site. Located just a few miles south of Sedona, the petroglyphs are on the grounds of the old V Bar V Ranch.
This protected site, managed by the Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest, is open to the public Friday through Monday, from 9:30 am to 3 pm. The rock area with the petroglyphs is a ten-minute stroll from the visitor center. Docents from Friends of the Forest and the Verde Valley Archaeological Society, and full-time on-site volunteers, are present to help visitors understand what they are looking at and to protect the site.
Petroglyphs are pecked, ground or scratched into the rock surface. We do not know what the rock art images meant to the people who made them, but Native Americans who have an ancestral connection to the people who made these symbols have told archaeologists that these symbols were made as parts of ceremonies, storytelling, clan symbols, solar calendars, and asking for rain.
V Bar V is within the Wet Beaver Creek riparian habitat. The creek is a tributary of the Verde River. This riparian area is a green belt of trees, shrubs and grasses that supports a variety of plant and animal life. The Sinaguan people inhabited this area for 800 years, from AD 600 to 1400, drawn by the rich habitat that could provide for their livelihood.
Because ranchers protected the rock art from damage, the Sinaguan drawings are well-preserved. They are considered to be outstanding examples of the Beaver Creek Style, which is found in the eastern side of the Verde Valley. The Beaver Creek Style, which is known for precise execution, includes certain elements that occur frequently enough to be considered motifs. The pictographs include animal, human-like, and geometric elements.
The most frequent animal images resemble snakes, turtles, coyotes or dogs, and deer or antelope. Found in just a few sites in the Verde is a heron-like water bird. Another group of frequent elements are stick-figured human-like forms, often with multiple sets of arms or legs, or circular stomachs. There are young girls, which can be identified by hair whorls on the sides of their heads. Elements also include footprints or bear paws. There are walking figures with backpacks and a cougar-like animal on the back of a doe. Geometric forms include a variety of lines, asterisks, rectangles, grids, spirals, concentric circles and dots.
The Beaver Creek Style is notable for the pairing of images. You can see two humans or two turtles pecked into the stone side by side. Sometimes the humans are large female figures, and turtles are almost always in pairs.
There are numerous cupules that have been pecked and ground into the petroglyphs at this site. Cupules are circular depressions that can be made with hand-held hammer-stones. The cupules appear on certain body parts—head, heart, hands and feet.
Recent studies of the effects of light and shadow on design images have indicated the probable presence of a 12-month solar calendar at this site. The calendar identifies the equinoxes and solstices, as well as planting times and at least one ceremonial activity. There is far greater certainty about the interpretation of the solar calendar than of the other design images. There are over 1,300 images on the petroglyph panels. Only eleven of these are elements of the calendar. We can talk for an hour or more about these eleven. If only we could know one-quarter as much about the others. What a wealth of knowledge that would be about the Sinagua culture!
Homesteaded in 1900, the V Bar V property was used for cattle ranching by a succession of owners. In the 1920’s, a partnership bought the property along with other “cow outfits,” and formed the V Bar V Cattle Company. The V Bar V brand was chosen because it was considered easy to use. The U.S. Forest Service acquired the property through a land trade with the University of Arizona in 1994.
V Bar V Heritage Site is almost three miles east of the junction of I-17 and SR 179 on Forest Road 618. Watch for the entrance on your right less than one-half mile past the Beaver Creek Campground. There is a visitor center and a bookstore. A Red Rock Pass or its equivalent is required.
Serving Sedona, submitted this week by Bev Jackson, Sedona Friends of the Forest, appears Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News.