In partnership with Visit Phoenix

Ancient history and modern mysteries in the Sonoran Desert

Check out Phoenix's coolest ancient petroglyphs and historical wonders

Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re watching a reenacted gunfight or pondering the meaning of ancient petroglyphs, there are endless ways to experience Phoenix’s fascinating history. Visit museums highlighting the area’s Indigenous legacy through artifacts, events, and exhibits, or pan for gold in a restored ghost town. 

1. Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve

Native Americans created more than 1,600 petroglyph carvings throughout the 50-acre archeological site known as Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve. An o-nsite museum offers historical exhibitions, educational programs, children’s activities, live-music events, a gift shop, and more. Head out on the self-guided, quarter-mile nature trail featuring petroglyphs, native desert plants, and animals in their natural habitat.

ancient pit houses in the desert underneath a blue sky
Pueblo Grande Museum Pit Houses. | Photo courtesy of Visit Phoenix

2. Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park

One of the oldest and most historic museums in Greater Phoenix, the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park has been open for almost a century. With an emphasis on sharing the rich culture of the Indigenous people of the Salt River Valley, Pueblo Grande not only features galleries of original artifacts, but also regularly hosts events and exhibits — ranging from dances and markets to ancient technology demonstrations and guest speakers. Inside, the museum features three galleries displaying artifacts and information on the Hohokam peoples, a hands-on children’s gallery, and a store selling Native American gifts, art, and jewelry. Outdoors, a fully-accessible 2/3-mile trail takes you through a prehistoric Hohokam archaeological village site with a partially excavated platform mound, ball court, and replicated prehistoric houses.

3. Cave Creek Museum

The Cave Creek Museum provides an in-depth look at the history of this north Phoenix region through its collection of preserved artifacts—dating as far back as ancient inhabitants and as recent as pioneers and settlers. Travel through time by exploring the various collections on display, including Native American pots and tools as well as old photos from Cave Creek’s military and ranching days. Once you’re done perusing the exhibits within the archeology and history wings, be sure to check out the museum grounds, home to a historic stamp mill and other equipment from the state’s early mining days, a church that once housed the museum, a cabin with a fascinating history, and surrounding gardens.

a old mining town with wooden buildings in the desert surrounded by cacti and blue skies
Goldfield Gold Mine Ghost Town. | Photo: Shutterstock

4. Goldfield Ghost Town

Goldfield was once a thriving city that included three saloons, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a brewery, a meat market, and a school. However, the town was founded around a gold mine that faulted, and it was quickly forgotten. But Goldfield got a second chance at life, and is now a popular historical attraction. The restored ghost town features narrow gauge railroad rides, mine tours, reenactments of gunfights, gold panning, horseback riding, and tons of historical displays.

a wood and stone sign in the desert that says "Pioneer Arizona 19th century village"
Pioneer Living History Museum sign. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

5. Pioneer Living History Museum

The Pioneer Living History Museum, located in the black rock foothills of Northern Phoenix, is a must-see for history buffs. The buildings that populate the 90-acre open-air museum are a mix of authentic 19th-century structures and incredibly detailed recreations. An exhibit hall is filled with pieces and artifacts from all across the West. With 30 different buildings, including a bank, barber shop, Victorian-style home, and sheriff’s office (with gallows), you may feel as if you’ve walked onto an old Western a movie set. 

6. Arizona Museum of Natural History

The Arizona Museum of Natural History is ideal for all ages, with a multi-level space full of floor-to-ceiling exhibits and interactive galleries. The museum is constructed in a way that immerses visitors in the past, giving them the opportunity to better understand and appreciate Arizona’s native animals and Indigenous communities. One gallery highlights the Hohokam, a civilization that thrived in Central Arizona between 500 and 1450 A.D. Another big draw to the museum is the outdoor Mesa Grande Cultural Park, the site of a temple mound built by the Hohokam.