Visitor Experiences in National Park Service Cultural Sites in Arizona: Implications for Interpretive Planning and Management


  • Dave D. White
  • Randy J. Virden
  • Kerri L. Cahill


environmental interpretation, cultural interpretation, interpretive planning, visitor experience, cultural sites, National Park Service, Arizona


The interpretation of natural and cultural resources is an important component of comprehensive planning and management for visitor experiences and resource conservation in cultural sites. Despite widespread recognition that knowledge of the motives, experiences, and preferences of current park visitors is necessary for effective interpretive planning, too often this type of information is lacking. In this paper, we present a study of visitor experiences in three National Park Service cultural sites in Arizona. We conducted our study in conjunction with the General Management Planning (GMP) Process for Montezuma Castle National Monument, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot National Monument in Arizona. We collected data on visitor motives, experiences, and preferences for interpretive themes, programs, and services through on-site (N = 1303) and mailback (N = 671) questionnaires.Our findings indicate that cultural and historical learning, nature contemplation, and escape and socializing were important motives for visiting cultural sites. Visitors felt impressed by the engineering accomplishments of the Sinagua culture and the ability of the Sinagua Indians to thrive in the arid environment, and felt a sense of pride in the preservation of the archaeological resources. Visitors also reported beneficial learning experiences as they gained knowledge about human history in the area. Our analysis indicates visitor interest in two domains of interpretive themes, one grouping of cultural and historical stories, and another grouping related to natural diversity and ecology. We identified differences between visitors to the three sites, with Montezuma Well visitors emerging as a somewhat distinct group, differentiated by their orientation toward and interest in the natural environment.The findings from this study were incorporated into the GMP and interpretive planning process to inform and refine programs and services. Specifically, our study was used to develop customized alternatives for themes, programs, and services for each site. Questions remain about choosing the structure, tone, and plurality of the narratives to be presented at cultural sites and which voices are presented, and thus privileged.





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