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The Multicultural Landscape of the Lower Gila River

November 18, 2017 - November 19, 2017

On November 18 and 19, Preservation Archaeologist Aaron Wright (with Archaeology Southwest) will lead a weekend tour to five notable sites along the lower Gila River. The excursion kicks off with a visit to the Gatlin Site, a National Historic Landmark owned and managed by the City of Gila Bend. Between AD 800 and 1200, the Gatlin Site was arguably the preeminent Hohokam village below the confluence of the Salt and Gila Rivers. The site includes one of three known pre-Classic Hohokam platform mounds (the other two are at Snaketown and Las Colinas). The next stop will take us 40 miles downriver to the world-renowned rock art site of Sears Point. Listed on the National Register of Historic Place, Sears Point contains one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in the American Southwest. The rock art is characteristic of a regional style attributed to Patayan communities who resided west of the Painted Rock Mountains from approximately AD 700 to 1830. An optional 2-mile loop from Sears Point will take us to Independence Point, a landmark named by Kit Carson that bears numerous historic inscriptions associated with the Army of the West, the Mormon Battalion, 49ers, and the Butterfield Overland Stage Line.

The second day of the tour will begin at the Painted Rock Petroglyphs, a site 20 miles west of Gila Bend that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Painted Rocks exhibits over 3,800 petroglyphs within a 2-acre area, very likely making it the most concentrated rock art site in the American Southwest. Aaron just finished an intensive survey and inventory of the site and its rock art and is sure to add new insight and contemporary understanding of this very popular and well-visited site. Following Painted Rocks will be a 4-mile loop at Oatman Point. This leg of the tour will take us first to the site of the infamous Oatman Massacre of 1851. From there we will visit to a nearby rock art site with distinctive Patayan petroglyphs, followed by a stop at an adjacent Patayan village site where the creators of the rock art likely resided.

The tour will convene at 10am on November 18 in Gila Bend and will finish-up mid-afternoon on November 19. Drive time to Gila Bend from Tucson is 2 hours and from Phoenix is 1.5 hours.


Developed campsites are available at the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site at a rate of $7/vehicle, and several hotel options are available in Gila Bend. Gila Bend also hosts several restaurants, but there are currently no grocery stores.

Safety and What to Bring

  • Several segments of the tour will require a considerable amount of walking, including the 2-mile loop to Independence Point and the 4-mile loop to the petroglyphs at Oatman Point.
  • The terrain includes some loose rocks and sand. Adequate shoes, clothing, and water are essential if you intend to participate in these segments.
  • Even though it will be late fall, the sun is intense and hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are highly recommended.
  • If you don’t plan to climb a 80-foot escarpment at Sears Point to view the glyphs up-close, bring binoculars to view the them from below.
  • Saturday lunch options will be available in Gila Bend, but packed lunches will be needed for Sunday.

The trip is limited to 20 people and you must be an AAHS member. To register contact Kirk Astroth at kirkastroth@gmail.com

Recommended Reading

Wright, Aaron M., and Maren P. Hopkins

2016 The Great Bend of the Gila: Contemporary Native American Connections to an Ancestral Landscape. Technical Report No. 2016-101. Archaeology Southwest, Tucson. Available at www.archaeologysouthwest.org/pdf/gb_ethno.pdf

Wright, Aaron M., Pat H. Stein, Barnaby V. Lewis, and William H. Doelle

2015 The Great Bend of the Gila: A Nationally Significant Cultural Landscape. Archaeology Southwest, Tucson. Available at www.archaeologysouthwest.org/pdf/GreatBend.pdf





November 18, 2017
November 19, 2017
Event Category:


Kirk Astroth