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May 1, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
Garden Valley lies about one and a half miles east of First Water Trail Head. Sixty years ago this valley was a noted archaeological site, and prior to 1920 this large, flat valley was often called Indian Valley.
The origin of the name can probably be traced to the military and probably originated from the many Native Americans who dry farmed the area centuries ago and left behind artifacts to be found later by American archaeologists. Archaeological expeditions gathered artifacts here as late as the mid-1930s. The valley was quite obscure until a man named Odds Halseth [led] an expedition into the area for the Phoenix Archaeological Commission in December of 1931. This expedition became nationally known when they discovered a missing prospector’s skull.
The commission authorized this expedition into the Superstition Mountains to explore and record the impact of Native American occupancy in the region. All of the field work completed by the expedition was recorded and reported by the “Arizona Republican” under the direction of Harvey Mott. The expedition found the Garden Valley site a rich storehouse of early Native American artifacts. The valley floor was littered with projectile points, pieces of stoneware, beads, fetishes and pottery shards. The artifacts were believed to be Hohokam and may have been deposited 800 to 1,000 years earlier.
To accurately describe the content of the valley prior to 1931, we must depend on Harvey Mott’s description and sketch of the area. Mott’s sketch and narrative describes a central ruin at the south end of the valley littered with matates and manos. This ruin and the small caves along the western fringe of the valley probably served as a shelter for the early occupants of the region. The numerous trash mounds found along the eastern edge of the valley were difficult to recognize in 1931. Some of these mounds may have been burials. Today these mounds are only visible to the trained eye due to the eons of erosion. Mott mentions several small burial sites, however it is believed the Hohokam cremated their dead.
Petroglyphs, grinding holes and stationary matates are quite common in several areas. The basalt rock along the perimeter of the valley was ideal for petroglyphs. Most of the stoneware has been picked up during the past thirty years, but numerous lithics can still be spotted on the valley floor after a good rain and in the right places.
At the northern drainage point of the valley Halseth found indications that would suggest the early inhabitants may have controlled the runoff in this area for irrigation. The valley floor consists of a sandy-loamy soil that would have drained well when it was first cultivated. The central portion of the valley appears to be leached out. The leaching could have resulted from years of primitive agriculture or over-grazing by livestock. The raising of cattle in the valley has resulted in an overgrowth of mesquite and Cholla cactus.
Garden Valley is a fascinating place to visit today. The region is protected, so all artifacts must be left in place. This is now part of the Superstition Wilderness Area.
To visit Garden Valley, drive out the Apache Trail north to the First Water Trailhead turn-off. Turn right and drive down FS78 road for 2.5 miles and you will arrive at the First Water Trailhead. I would recommend you take a Superstition Wilderness Area map with you on your hike. For more information contact the Mesa Ranger District, 26 N. MacDonald P.O. Box 5800 Mesa, Arizona. (480) 610-3300.