Humans have explored and lived on the plateau and surrounding canyons for thousands of years, since the earliest known hunters and gatherers crossed the area 12,000 or more years ago. Some of the earliest rock art in the Southwest can be found in the monument. High densities of Ancestral Puebloan sites can also be found, including remnants of large and small villages, some with intact standing walls, fieldhouses, trails, granaries, burials, and camps.

The monument was a crossroad for many historic expeditions. In 1776, the Dominguez-Escalante expedition of Spanish explorers traversed the monument in search of a safe crossing of the Colorado River. After a first attempt at crossing the Colorado near the mouth of the Paria River failed, the explorers traveled up the Paria Canyon in the monument until finding a steep hillside they could negotiate with horses. This took them out of the Paria Canyon to the east and up into the Ferry Swale area, after which they achieved their goal at the Crossing of the Fathers east of the monument. Antonio Armijo’s 1829 Mexican trading expedition followed the Dominguez route on the way from Santa Fe to Los Angeles.

Later, Mormon exploring parties led by Jacob Hamblin crossed south of the Vermilion Cliffs on missionary expeditions to the Hopi villages. Mormon pioneer John D. Lee established Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River just south of the monument in 1871. This paved the way for homesteads in the monument, still visible in remnants of historic ranch structures and associated objects that tell the stories of early settlement. The route taken by the Mormon explorers along the base of the Paria Plateau would later become known as the Old Arizona Road or Honeymoon Trail. After the temple in St. George, Utah was completed in 1877, the Honeymoon Trail was used by Mormon couples who had already been married by civil authorities in the Arizona settlements, but also made the arduous trip to St. George to have their marriages solemnized in the temple. The settlement of the monument area by Mormon pioneers overlapped with another historic exploration by John Wesley Powell, who passed through the monument during his scientific surveys of 1871.

March is Arizona Archaeology Month

Public interest in BLM-administered cultural resources is very high, so we maintain close ties with a wide range of individuals, organizations and other agencies, and play a strong role in public outreach. We have for many years enjoyed a productive partnership with the State Historic Preservation Office to promote Arizona Archaeology Month, a landmark program which began in Arizona and has since been adopted by other States.

Arizona Archaeology Month is the most comprehensive cultural resource public awareness program in the country. Arizona BLM typically does about 180 public presentations and tours each year dealing with cultural heritage, reaching about 5,000 people annually. Many of these presentations and tours are done in conjunction with Arizona Archaeology Month activities.

Site Steward Program

The volunteer Site Steward Program was established in 1988. The program is administered by the State Historic Preservation Office on behalf of all the participating agencies and tribes.

Currently, the program has 670 trained volunteers who monitor archaeological and historic sites on lands of all jurisdiction throughout Arizona for the purpose of detecting and deterring theft and vandalism.

Since the program was established, Stewards have contributed more than 96,000 hours monitoring archaeological and historic sites throughout the State. In the last two years, they made 2,200 visits to sites on BLM lands alone, contributing more than 7,000 hours to help protect sites on BLM lands.

In addition to monitoring sites, Stewards also assist us in other activities like:

  • mapping sites
  • recording rock art
  • building protective fences around sites
  • participating in field surveys under the direction of our Field Office archaeologists.

The Site Steward Program received a national Legacy of the Land Award from the BLM in 1999.