Holocene climate change has likely had a profound influence on ecosystems and culture. A link between solar forcing and Holocene climate, such as the Asian monsoon, has been shown for some regions, although no mechanism for this relationship has been suggested. Here we present the first high-resolution complete Holocene climate record for the North American monsoon region of the southwestern United States (southwest) in order to address the nature and causes of Holocene climate change. We show that periods of increased solar radiation correlate with decreased rainfall, the opposite to that observed in the Asian monsoon, and suggest that a solar link to Holocene climate is through changes in the Walker circulation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Niño–Southern Oscillation systems of the tropical Pacific Ocean. Given the link between increased warming and aridity in the southwest, additional warming due to greenhouse forcing could potentially lead to persistent hyperarid conditions, similar to those seen in our record during periods of high solar activity.