Protection of millennia-old rock art in the Gila Bend region of Arizona was strengthened in June 2014 when Archaeology Southwest acquired a 360-acre parcel that includes a large portion of Quail Point, an impressive rock art site within the proposed Great Bend of the Gila National Monument. The surrounding lands are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as part of their Sears Point Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Through our ownership of the parcel—which comprises a significant cluster of rock art, segments of ancient trails, and part of a seasonal camp inhabited by people of the Patayan culture about a thousand years ago—we will routinely monitor conditions of the archaeological resources on the parcel and provide research and educational access aligned with our conservation goals.
Quail Point is one of the most notable sites along the Great Bend of the Gila River because it features two major concentrations of petroglyphs. Through this acquisition, Archaeology Southwest will be protecting a significant portion of one of the petroglyph clusters. Petroglyphs are images carved or abraded into stone. Other forms of rock art found in the region include pictographs, images created by brushing, finger-painting, or blowing moistened soot or pigments onto rock, and geoglyphs, large designs or patterns made by aligning rocks on the ground surface. Because of its distinctive volcanic geology (link to report by Arizona Geological Survey opens as a PDF), the Great Bend of the Gila River is rich with such fragile—and endangered—traces of ancient life.
The petroglyphs at Quail Point, nearby Sears Point (link to report by Rupestrian CyberServices opens as a PDF), and other locations along this riverine corridor are so impressive that some rock art experts feel they merit designation as a World Heritage Site. By controlling access and regularly monitoring the parcel, Archaeology Southwest hopes to prevent the vandalism toward rock art that is all too common—spray paint, bullet holes, new carvings and abrasions.
The BLM-managed portions of Quail Point and other places of ancient human endeavor in the Gila Bend region are, collectively, a candidate for additional federal protection as a national monument. In March 2013, Congressman Raúl Grijalva introduced a package of bills that included the Great Bend of the Gila National Monument Establishment Act. The Act seeks to manage and preserve an 84,000-acre area on public lands along the Gila River, from Robbins Butte in Maricopa County to Sears Point in Yuma County, as an integrated cultural landscape.
With Archaeology Southwest as its Local Partner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has taken up the cause, adding the Great Bend of the Gila to its National Treasures program. That program is a platform for promoting federal protection of places of national significance. National monument status would bring a higher level of protection, management, and funding than what the Bureau of Land Management is able to provide for the cultural and natural resources it currently manages in the region. In August 2014, an independent study showed that designation would bring considerable economic benefit to the region.
The Great Bend of the Gila is a cultural crossroads with a deep, rich, often overlooked past. Our role on the coalition—and now as a landowner—is to raise awareness of the truly unique, nonrenewable resource that is the cultural landscape of the Great Bend, and show why it warrants national monument status. For thousands of years, the Gila River in this area sustained the lives of travelers and residents alike, and the astounding rock art is just one expression of that story. The river was essential to an extensive ancient trail network, Hohokam and Patayan settlements, European explorations, Euro-American stagecoach routes (such as the Butterfield Overland Mail), homesteaders and ranchers, and early twentieth-century cross-country motorists (U.S. Route 80).
Archaeology Southwest’s acquisition of the parcel at Quail Point reaffirms our commitment to long-term protection of the incredible natural and archaeological resources of the Great Bend. As landowners with a Preservation Archaeology mission, we are even further invested in the future of the region’s history.