“It was impossible to tame, like leeches.”
Montezuma Well National Monument is full of leeches. Leeches are aquatic or terrestrial annelid worms with suckers at both ends. Many species are bloodsucking parasites or predators. Thousands of them writhe deep in the carbon dioxide heavy water of Montezuma Well.
Scorpions, Snails, Amphipods and Diatoms thrive here too; safe in sunlit water, just below the surface. The Diatoms are one celled plants feeding on that Light. The Amphipods, the evolutionary link between producers and predators, feed on the Diatoms. The food and safety of the light fails both at dusk. The Leeches rise to the surface of the water together, embrace the blackness of night, and gorge on the Amphipods. At dawn the leeches return to the dark depths. This predator and prey circle of life and death repeats in rhythm with planet Earth’s spinning, tilting, and rotation.
Fish do not, can not live in the waters of Montezuma Well. I would not drink or swim in the water of Montezuma Well.
There are vents down sixty five feet on the bottom of the well spewing 5.7 million liters (1.6 million gallons) of water into Montezuma Well each day, the perimeter of the openings a mislead of swirling sand. The dissolved levels of carbon dioxide in the water are eighty times too much. Then there is the high level of arsenic. The temperature a steady 23 degrees centigrade (74 Degrees Fahrenheit) year round, with the water a deep dark green color.
Though people have inhabited and explored this area for over one thousand years, it was not until 2011 that the source of the water was identified:
North of this harsh high desert that surrounds Montezuma Well is the Mogollom Rim, the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. More than ten thousand years ago it rained and snowed up on the Rim. The now earth bound water seeped into every porous place of least resistance. Through passing time, miles of distance, and several hundred yards of rock the rainwater and snow-melt journeyed, picking up microscopic minerals along the way, leaving others behind. It hit a wall of volcanic basalt at this location, creating a natural dam that forced the water back up towards the surface. The roof of a large underground cave now filled with water eroded. When the cave roof collapsed, the sinkhole called Montezuma Well was formed.
Water leaves Montezuma Well through entering a long crack in the bowl of the Well rock forming a narrow cave where the water flows through over 150 feet of filtering limestone before re-emerging from the outlet into an irrigation ditch on the other side. Sections of this ditch date back over 1,000 year. The water and ditches continue to be used today in nearby Rimrock. To me that is simply amazing.
Despite the leeches, scorpions, arsenic laden toxic water, original and creepy bugs and plants, and poison ivy, Montezuma Well is most often described as an Oasis . It is a lushly green, deeply shaded, and devoid of human sound and hurry. The surrounding area all harsh high desert.
For many years Montezuma Well has held my attention. As part of the history of the area, the geology and ongoing science studies. Then there is feeling of sanctuary and quiet of the place. I’ve been told the cosmic veil is thin here; reality could slide into another version and time and take me along. So far visiting the Well has remained a familiar place for a time out with the Cicadas in full song, with the sound and light play of crystal clear water flowing out the Swillet, and sunlight dancing off the Beaver Creek flowing right there singing the backup harmonies.
It is believed that people have inhabited this area for over one thousand years. The remains of pit-houses, tools and artifacts in the area indicates the Salt River Hohokum lived in the area around 1050 CE. The Sinagua culture began building the small dwellings in the cliffs around the Well in the 1100’s. Around 1425 the people left the area, their former homes left empty to fill the muse and imagination of visitors, or perhaps to hold tightly to the details of all that came before.
The descendants of those who lived here who are from the Zuni, Hopi, Yavapai, and Western Apache Tribes still return, all considering Montezuma Well a sacred place to be approached with respect and reverence. It is said, that once something emerges from the vents at the bottom of the Well, it may never ever return.
Montezuma Well is a National Monument located in Arizona USA -From Phoenix – Follow I-17 North to exit 293 (4 miles north of the exit for Montezuma Castle). Continue through the towns of McGuireville and Rimrock, following the signs for four miles to the entrance to the Well. The trails are well marked, the interpretive signs along the way excellent, and the sense of quiet divine. There is no fee to enter Montezuma Well.
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Music: Marvin Gaye- What’s Going On