Sept. 15, 2004 - About 1,000 years ago the Santa Cruz River Valley flood plain supported a thriving agricultural civilization. On the northwest edge of what is now Continental Ranch, the Hohokam Indians used canals to irrigate fields and developed a sedentary community with an extensive trade network.
Seven and a half centuries later, Juan Bautista de Anza set up camp and called the site Llano del Azotado, "area of the beaten one," on his trek from Mexico to San Francisco.
In the latter half of the 18th century the same site became a wagon stop for U.S. settlers traveling west. The intersection of the Tucson Mountains and the Santa Cruz River was well known as a reliable source of water.
The three cultures that congregated at this location over the centuries each played an important role in shaping the history of the Tucson region, including Marana.
For that reason, Pima County has taken steps to preserve this site, called Los Morteros. The Pima County Board of Supervisors Sept. 7 unanimously agreed to a land exchange with the Marana Unified School District that will allow for the completion of the Los Morteros archaeological park. The school district turned over to the county 67 acres of historically significant land in exchange for 43.5 acres of undeveloped land in Continental Ranch and $1.02 million.
The county will pay the school district using 1997 and 2004 cultural resource bond money for the land located between Coachline Boulevard and Silverbell Road, said Pima County Cultural Resources Director Linda Mayro.
The district can use the land it obtained from the county to build another school site or it can sell the land for residential development, Board Member Bill Kuhn said at a governing board meeting Aug. 24. At the same meeting, Board Member Dan Post said the land acquisition would not have been possible without the contribution of Wade McLean, the former MUSD superintendent who was rehired by the district at a salary of more than $77,000 to assist in the negotiation of the land swap with the county. Post said the results of the land swap indicate McLean had done his job effectively, although the board been criticized for rehiring the former superintendent.
To create the archaeological park, the county will first clean the site. Over the years the vacant land has been subject to illegal dumping, Mayro said. The next step is to establish a security force to monitor the property. The reason for this is to keep vehicles off the site, and ensure it remains in its present condition. Mayro said the county wants to have security enforcement by the end of the year.
"We're not trying to ban people, we just want people to respect the site," Mayro said.
Once these first two steps have been taken, the county will begin planning an interpretive trail to teach visitors about its historical significance. Mayro said the site will remain open during the county's planning process and that Los Morteros archaeological park will be a place for passive recreation. The county will do no further excavation or construction because that would likely damage the site.
Mayro and cultural resource program coordinator Roger Anyon were to meet with Marana town officials Sept. 14 to discuss the level of cooperation between the town and the county in maintaining the archaeological park. At the meeting the two groups discussed the development of the Anza trail and the Marana Mounds site, another Native American landmark. Mayro said a topic of discussion would be Marana's possible assistance in the security of the area.
"We're going to seek some kind of cooperation with the town," Mayro said.
Town officials who will attend the meeting with Mayro and Anyon incude representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department, development services and Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat. Reuwsaat said he was unable to comment on the level of cooperation Marana would provide with the county before the meeting takes place, but he said there is no doubt Marana has an interest in preserving the history of the region.
Paul Fish, the curator of archaeology at the Arizona State Museum, said this particular location was selected by several cultures because of its geological significance. Fish, who has conducted research at the Los Morteros site, said the joining of the Tucson Mountains with the Santa Cruz River made this a place where underground water flowed close to the surface, creating an environment that could sustain agriculture.
Judging from archaeological evidence, as many as 500 Hohokam Indians may have lived on the Los Morteros site between A.D. 700 and 1100, Fish said. Extended families may have lived in wattle and daub housing - structures supported by wooden poles and reinforced with branches and mud - in a circle around a central plaza. These extended families may have shared roasting pits and working areas. At the edge of the central plaza was a ball court.
Around the year 1100, the Hohokam Indians began constructing their homes from adobe and, for reasons that are not fully understood, the Hohokam Indians disappeared around 1450. Mayro said a variety of factors may have led to the vanishing of the culture. Changes in the environment, such as drought and flooding, may have exhausted the Hohokam's resources. Mayro said the land may not have been able to support such an extensive Native American trade network, forcing southwestern American Indian tribes to break into smaller familial based groups. However, Fish said no theory can sufficiently explain the disappearance of the Hohokam.
By the time Anza reached the site in 1775 the civilization of the Hohokam lay in ruins. According to entries in Anza's journal, two guides that tended the mules had fled the day before. When nearby American Indians found the deserters, they returned them to Anza, who had them beaten to send a message to other members of his group. They then named the camp Llano del Azotado, area of the beaten one.
When Arizona became part of the United States in 1848, Los Morteros became an important point for U.S. settlers traveling westward. In 1888, Los Morteros was the Butterfield point of the mountain stage stop. Settlers making the journey west across the United States toward California would stop in what is now Marana to refresh themselves and their animals with Los Morteros steady supply of water.
Few points in the county represent these three major cultural influences on the Southwest as significantly as Los Morteros, making it important for the county to preserve the site, Mayro said.