Just a 90 minute drive north on I-17 from Phoenix, 45 minutes
south from Flagstaff, stands a very tangible link to the ancient
past of Arizona that will inspire and amaze any traveler.
Perched 100 feet above the ground within a massive recess
in the face of a limestone cliff, the ruins of Montezuma Castle
stand in silent witness to the passage of the centuries.
Located within the Verde Valley, this apartment-like dwelling
was constructed in the 12th century entirely by hand using
primitive tools and materials. The builders were the
Sinagua Indians, so named by the Spanish, who mysteriously
disappeared into the shadows of history around the 1400s.
It was, and is, a
marvel of ancient construction skills, and in its heyday stood
five levels tall with a total of twenty separate rooms of
various sizes. Nearby, at the base of the cliff, once stood a
six-story structure of forty-five rooms that has deteriorated to
the point of being almost a pile of rubble. The cliff dwelling,
with its protective stone overhang, has survived the last 600
years in much better condition. In fact, it is one of the
best-preserved ancient native structures in the Southwest.
The Sinagua were an agricultural people who had abandoned their
hunter-gatherer life, although they did hunt to supplement their
diet, but had long since deserted their homes by the time the
Spanish arrived in the area in the late 1500s. If the Spanish
explorers glimpsed the cliff dwelling they were not impressed
enough to leave any record. It was the first Anglo settlers in
the 1860s who gave the site the distinctive and erroneous name
of Montezuma Castle, believing that the structure must be Aztec
By 1897, members of the Arizona Antiquarian Association began
restoration on the site and in 1906 it was named a National
Monument by a presidential proclamation issued by Theodore
Roosevelt. Since that time the federal government has managed
the site, and has purchased adjacent private lands to expand and
preserve the surrounding area in its original condition.
Viewed now only from below, over thirty years ago the practice
of allowing tourists to climb up to the structure via a series
of installed ladders and wander through its rooms was ended, the
Castle is still an impressive sight.
At the base of the
cliff a series of paved trails wander 1/3 of a mile through
stately sycamore trees and beside a meandering stream, providing
views of the cliff dwelling from varied and interesting angles.
Benches are provided to rest and relax while taking in the
sights and sounds of the natural environment.
Inside the park
visitor center there are exhibits of artifacts and a modest gift
store that provide more information on the Sinagua people who
built the Castle and the history of the site.
The 102-year old park is open daily 8am to 6pm from June through
August and 8am to 5pm from September through May. Admission
price is a quite manageable $5.00 for adults 16 and over and
free for children under 16. It is located just off exit 289 of
I-17 on Montezuma Castle Road.
For a tranquil,
go-at-your-own-pace stroll through an ancient site without the
hustle, bustle, and crowds associated with other Arizona
attractions or similar areas, this trip is highly recommended.