Have you ever wondered when the last time was that anyone saw a deer in Deer Valley? Or where there are deer nearby today? Or even, come to think of it, what is Deer Valley and why was it so named?
The icon that graces some of the local street signs and school district letterheads comes from a petroglyph hammered into boulders at Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Hedgepeth Hills, just two miles south of Deem Hills. Best viewed in early morning light, the one foot high by two foot wide glyph of two sparring bucks glows soft orange against the dark basalt rock. This is the true origin of the modern name, Deer Valley, for though there were certainly deer here up to fifty years ago, there is no reason to believe that they were any more abundant here than in other nearby areas. The vast petroglyph site, however, is very unique.
For reasons that archaeologists do not fully understand, people chose to mark their passing at Hedgepeth Hills for thousands of years, including about a hundred petroglyphs (out of over 1500) that appear to be renderings of game animals. For the various tribes of ancient people who lived around Deer Valley for over ten thousand years, Skunk Creek was likely an important traveling route, and was also a lush riparian corridor running free from its source in the hills north of the town of Anthem, to its confluence with New River near 73rd Ave. and Greenway. The summit of Hedgepeth Hills, which rise from near the banks of Skunk Creek was probably an excellent spot to survey the creek and surrounding landscape for deer.
With Skunk Creek passing just east of Deem Hills, it is likely that small herds used to wander through, perhaps as recently as fifty years ago, before the area was devoured by suburbs. Although the modern Deer Valley, which spans from the CAP canal to Greenway and east to west between 20th Street and 51st Avenue, is unlikely to support any mule deer today, they are surprisingly widespread in the desert southwest wherever native vegetation still thrives and there is enough water to sustain them. Deer are browsers, preferring shrubs and tree foliage to grass, and will travel across the dry desert between water sources snacking on mesquite, fairy duster, jojoba, and other common plants. Today, if you roam a bit further east from Deer Valley to the McDowells and Cave Creek, north to Lake Pleasant or west to the White Tanks, you can find mule deer browsing contentedly on mesquite, or lapping precious water from a pothole after a good rain. South Mountain is also a large enough refuge to sustain a small deer population
Deer Valley Rock Art Center is just half a mile west of the Walgreen’s at the intersection of Deer Valley Road and 35th Avenue. They are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 8 am till 2 pm. The modest fee is well worth a morning visit to view the deer of Deer Valley, and to learn more about the ancient peoples and natural history of the area.
Since May 2005, I have written a natural history column for a neighborhood newsletter published by Jennifer Moore called "Our Big Backyard: Natural History of the Deem Hills," and since 2010, "A Suburban Naturalist."All of these columns are reproduced here. Deem Hills is a City of Phoenix Desert Preserve located just north of Happy Valley Road in north central Phoenix, and just west of I-17. The Preserve and adjacent hills comprise over 900 acres of open space with several miles of hiking trails. For more perspectives from the Deem Hills and suburban Phoenix, also check out my companion blog, Kat Tracks.
As a naturalist with a special interest in botany and plant ecology, some of my greatest passions are to explore, photograph and write about native plants. If I can spark an awareness or interest in natural history in others along the way, that is my greatest reward.