Small impressive settlement of the pre-Columbian Sinagua peoples, sons of Lehi in antiquity, in the Verde Valley of central Arizona. Very accessible and comprehensible example of similar communities dotted throughout the Southwest. There is an impressive very well-preserved naturally-protected cliff dwelling and, a bit further south and exposed to the elements, a more ruined ruin. There are broad flat paved pathways all the way down to the live-giving river, making nearly the entire small monument wheelchair-accessible.
This was one of the the four national monuments originally designated so by President Teddy Roosevelt. It is administered by the National Park Service, so there are well-developed facilities, including a small museum and - of course - a gift shop.
Easily accessible just a few miles off I-17 at Exit 287 near Camp Verde and a few miles south of the southern exit to Sedona and Arizona State Parks such as Red Rock and Slide Rock.
The piles of rocks you see here are the remains of a 15 to 20 room pueblo built here on this hilltop. Other pueblos were built on other hilltops overlooking the farmland. These pueblos were built using sandstone and limestone a similar technique as was used to construct the nearby Tuzigoot Pueblo.
Here you see an example of a cliff house built by the Sinagua. These were built facing east so the morning sun would warm the house in the winter. The houses were relatively easy to make because all you had to do was enclose the mouth of the cave. You got to the house using narrow ledges or wooden ladders. These type of houses were popular throughout the Southwest and many examples have been found in the Verde Valley.
Here you see how the inhabitants built these houses in the naturally occurring caves using the cave walls and roof as parts of the buildings. The doors are small to protect against the hot summer sun and the cold winter winds. Note the black color of the cave ceiling from the cooking fires.
Montezuma’s Well was probably formed about 11,000 years ago when the roof of a large water-filled underground cave collapsed. The resulting formation provided the water for a thriving Sinagua community and today offers us a unique look into the past. There are examples/remains of four types of Sinagua Dwellings here; Cliff Dwellings, Cave Dwellings, a Pithouse, and Stand-alone Pueblos. There is no entrance fee for Montezuma's Well.
The Verde Valley was first settled around 700 AD by hunter gatherers who hunted antelope and gathered food on the fertile land along Wet Beaver Creek. You can see the course of the creek by looking for the line of green trees in the picture. Farming was probably introduced to these hunter gatherers by the Hohokam who came this way to trade. In the 1300s the Sinagua prospered here and planted corn, beans, squash and cotton.
Visitor Centers are like a museum within a museum. They not only provide a service in preserving and protecting our past, but provide a upclose educational look at centuries past. They had some really nice displays of artifacts and some really neat old photographs of what the ruins looks like when it was first discovered and visitors in the 1800's.
I think these plaques are essential to any national park or monument. I know with my boys, they love to read them. And I am sure as with many school children find them enjoyable as well as many adults like myself. I watched many people just walk along and not even glance down on them. I know at one point my oldest was reading them to my younger one and was trying to illustrate what each structure was to him. It made me proud.
Visitor centers are a wealth of information. It’s almost the central hub of any park almost more than the monument…….lol. Without them, many tourist or adventures would be lost. As you start to enter the walkway, be sure to take the time as you walk in or exit the visitor center to read the posters on the brick wall. It has a vast wealth of information in regards to the history of this park. Not many visitor centers have them, so I found these to be kind of unique. My oldest took the time to read them, even though we read everything inside the monument park. I enjoyed some of the old photography of the monument. It appears this park has been a favorite of many visitors as far back as 1848.
What is really neat, there is a really cool model display that is encased and is a replica of the ruins during its occupation. It is very detailed and my boys really enjoyed it. It even has a voice recording explaining the different faucets of the Sinagua people while living here. This neat display has been enjoyed since the 1950’s.
There is a lovely paved path that is about a 1/3 mile loop that takes you through a very lovely sycamore glade and past the ancient cliff dwellings and by Beaver Creek. It was a very tranquil day and we thoroughly enjoyed just taking in the view of the dwellings from different angles. The ruins almost look so unreal and it is still hard to believe they are still among us for us to enjoy.
As you walk along the path, you may notice that there is lots of wonderful flora. Although the ruins only encompass a small area, it supports at least 379 species of plants and 15 plants associations. This is rare since this area only gets about 12 inches of precipitation annually.
Here you can purchase tickets for either Montezuma Castle and or Tuzigoot National Monument also. Passes are available at a discounted rate of $8.00 for both. Be sure if you are planning on visiting both parks ask for this discounted pass when you purchase your entrance fee at either park. I had almost forgot this when I got passes for Montezuma’s Castle, so when we went to Tuzigoot, I showed them my receipt and I was able to get the discount there.
I enjoy visitor centers. Park rangers are always available with lots of information and give tours also. They have lots of brochures available.
Adults (16 and over): $5.00 (good for seven days)
Children (under 16): FREE
Summer hours are 8am to 6pm
Winter hours are 8am to 5pm, 7 days a week
These ruins consisted a structure was at some point almost as spectacular as Castle B. It consisted of approximately 45 rooms that may had housed at least 100 people and had almost as many floors as Castle B. Sometime ago, they believed it had caught fire at one point, so it is not as nearly preserved as their neighbor’s is.
For over 400 years, the Sinagua people (two Spanish words “sin” and “agua”, which means “without water”) had made this beautiful oasis their home along Beaver Creek. Located high and practically carved into the mountainside, stands a tribute to a people who withstood the test of time and thrived here till their mysterious disappearance around 1380 or 1400. Experts assume it was due to the stress factor from prolonged drought, disease, and nutrient-depleted soil from growing corn. Yet, Native people are very connected to their lands, so for them to leave must have been something very tragic. Montezuma Castle, a pueblo ruin, that consist of 50 rooms with at least 5 levels of floor. It is the best preserved prehistoric dwellings in North America and was granted as one of our first national monuments by the Antiquities Act on December 8, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
It was one of my goals in life to see an actual pueblo ruin and it was almost unreal looking up at it from the ground. I was never so excited in seeing one for the first time. From its discovery in the 1846 by soldiers of the Mexican-American War till about 1951, visitor’s were allowed to climb the ladders to the ruins, those lucky people. Yet, now no one is allowed now to preserve the ruins for other generations to enjoy. It is visited by over 350,000 people a year.
Montezuma's Castle (which is misnamed because it is not believed Montezuma ever traveled this far) is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. The castle consists of 20 rooms and is built into the side of a towering limestone cliff. It was built around 1000 years ago by the Sinagua Indians. It is a classic example of the last phase of southern Sinagua occupation of the Verde Valley.
On December 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt declared four sites, including Montezuma's Castle, of historic and cultural significance as our nation's first National Monuments.
You can take a leisurly walk along the paved 1/3 mile path, in the shade of large old Sycamore trees, and view the exhibits in the museum.
The Montezuma Castle Visitor Center is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day 8 AM to 6 PM and from Labor Day through Memorial Day 8 AM to 5 PM. Entry (which is good for 7 days) is $5.00.
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