Filed Under Pre-Columbian

Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve

How Flood Control Led to Historical Preservation

The Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve is a site in North Phoenix which is dedicated to the protection of petroglyphs created by the various indigineous communities that have inhabited the Salt River Valley for centuries. These particular petroglyphs were first studied in 1980 when an archaeological expedition team led by J. Simon Bruder from the Museum of Northern Arizona investigated Native American petroglyphs and other artifacts on sites within the area of the Adobe Dam, one of four dam projects by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which finished construction in 1982, with the purpose of controlling the flow of Skunk Creek. While conducting research in this area, Bruder and his team found over 1,500 petroglyphs and other objects relating to the indigineous peoples who have previously lived near the Deer Valley area and in the Salt River Valley.

Flooding has always been a challenge and detrimental to the development of the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, especially its far northern sections. It is even speculated that the reason why the Hohokam people left the region was due to the increase in flooding. As Phoenix’s population grew, so did the need to control the environment. Efforts to control flooding in the early days of Phoenix often did not work. In 1959, the Flood Control District of Maricopa County was established with the goal of controlling the frequent flooding that has made development of Maricopa County and the Phoenix area much harder. Throughout the mid to late twentieth century, there were a series of major floods which destroyed a great deal of property. Such events helped the local government get the support they needed to pass legislation in order to build the dams and other flood control measures. Dams built by and developed by the Flood Control District, such as the Adobe Dam, have had to be able to properly prevent serious flooding of residential and areas of major human development while also protecting the local ecology. This would also extend to the protection of archaeological sites in the areas in which flooding needed to be further controlled. Such dams were also built with help from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers were first brought in to help with flood control in Maricopa County in the mid 1930s for work on controlling Queen Creek.

Planning for constructing more dams in the Salt River Valley started in the early 1960s. The Comprehensive Flood Control Report was released in 1962. Like the name suggests, this report detailed various projects that would be needed in order to properly control flooding in Maricopa County. The report contained solutions and summaries of various flood control projects as well as estimates for the cost of individual projects. The Adobe Dam was estimated to cost $3,133,000. The total cost of the projects would be around $102,000,000. Nearly all of the projects listed in the report, including Adobe Dam, were completed in the 1980s.

The Skunk Creek Watercourse Master Plan was one such project that had to deal with the conflicting interests of flood control. This plan came up with several goals to do this. Protecting residents from floods and damages associated with flooding and minimizing future costs of flood control and management are some of the stated goals of this project. Consideration for the potential damages done to the natural environment of the areas that needed to be controlled was also important. Ecologically important areas needed to be maintained in order to preserve the integrity of the local environment. While conducting research for this project, the researchers were mostly concerned with what would be the impact on the native ecology of the area of Skunk Creek Wash if it were to be destroyed by development. With preservation of the natural environment being a goal of flood control in Maricopa County, the protection of archeological sites, such as the ones found in Deer Valley, was enabled.

The petroglyphs found in the area were not restricted to one particular culture or group and they do not all originate from a single period in time, instead they cover cultures that date as far back as 5000 BCE and all the way up to 1400 CE. They may not have all been created for the same reason either, though the exact purpose for their creation is currently unknown. Various different images and objects are depicted on the rocks. Some of the petroglyphs include humans, various animals, and abstract shapes like circles and spirals. Members of Native American communities in Arizona and some anthropologists treat the petroglyphs as holding religious meanings even if the reason for their creation is not clear in order to show respect.

The oldest petroglyphs are associated with what is known as the Archaic Tradition of Native American petroglyphs, however the ones found in Deer Valley most likely do not date all the way to the origin of the tradition. The exact dating method for petroglyphs can not always be entirely accurate due to the nature of their construction. However, due to the overall style of the petroglyphs it can be ascertained as to what period they were generally created in. The creators of petroglyphs in the Archaic Tradition are the predecessors to those who would live in the area and create more petroglyphs later on. One such group would be the Hohokam. They were a prominent group in the Salt River Valley and are widely known for their construction of a great canal network that stretched across the valley.

In order to better preserve the petroglyphs and artifacts in the area of the dam, the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve was established. This was a joint effort between Arizona State University, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Maricopa County Flood Control District in order to preserve the petroglyphs from vandalism, which had occurred prior to the preserve's establishment and also to ensure that the dam would not cause further damage to the site. In 1994, the Deer Valley Rock Art Center was built within the grounds of the preserve. It is intended to educate visitors about the nature of the petroglyphs and artifacts found in the area. Since this time, the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University has operated the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve and the Rock Art Center.


Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve
Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve Petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve photographed by Peter Huegel. Source: Peter Huegel, “Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve” (2016), AZ Central, photograph ( accessed November 22, 2021). Permalink. Creator: Peter Huegel Date: June 7th, 2016
Deer Valley Rock Art Center
Deer Valley Rock Art Center Entrance of the Deer Valley Rock Art Center. Source: “Deer Valley Rock Art,” date unknown, Will Bruder Architects, photograph ( accessed November 22, 2021) Permalink
Hohokam Ruins at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Hohokam Ruins at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument The Hohokam people left many artifacts of their culture throughout the Salt River Valley. Other than petroglyphs, these include structures such as the ones found at Casa Grande National Monument. Source: “Hohokam Ruins at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument” date unknown, National Park Service, photograph ( accessed November 22, 2021) Permalink
Petroglyphs (1994)
Petroglyphs (1994) Picture of petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve. Source: Taken from George Garties “ASU, Army chip in to preserve Deer Valley Petroglyphs,” The Arizona Republic, T.J. Sokol, “Petroglyphs” (1994), photograph
Salt River Flood 1973
Salt River Flood 1973 A portion of the Salt River in Tempe following heavy flooding in 1973. Source: City of Tempe Redevelopment, “Salt River Flood 1973” (1973), City of Tempe Development Services Department, catalog number 2006.9.10433, film ( accessed November 22, 2021) Permalink Creator: City of Tempe Redevelopment Date: 1973
Girls Ride on Horses Through Flood Waters
Girls Ride on Horses Through Flood Waters Girls riding on horses following flooding in Tempe. Source: “Girls Ride Horses Through Flood Waters” (1980), Tempe Daily News, catalog number 1988.18.101, photograph ( accessed November 22, 2021) Permalink Date: 1980


Justin Carter, “Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve,” Salt River Stories, accessed July 21, 2024,