Thursday, May 30, 2013

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
During my 2012 visit to the United States, I spent five nights in Flagstaff, Arizona, which I used as my base while I explored some of the surrounding country. During my stay, one of the locations I happened upon―as I headed somewhat randomly, south―was the Montezuma Castle National Monument, a short distance off Interstate 17. Phoenix is approximately 140 km (87 mi) south of the monument, and Flagstaff, is about 80 km (50 mi) north.

I had never heard of the monument before my visit, nor therefore, had I seen images of the site. To say I was awestruck by the size and scale of what turns out to be some of the best preserved cliff-dwellings in the American Southwest, is an understatement.

The cliff-dwellings at Montezuma Castle were built and used by the Pre-Columbian Sinagua people around 700 AD. The Sinagua were northern cousins of the Hohokam, and the site was occupied from approximately 1125 to 1400 AD, with peak occupation thought to be around 1300 AD. By the way, when European Americans discovered the cliff-dwellings in the 1860s, they named them for the Mexican Aztec emperor, Montezuma II, due to mistaken belief that the emperor had been connected to their construction. In fact, neither part of the monument's name is correct. The site was abandoned by the Sinagua 100 years before Montezuma was born, and the dwellings were not a castle. The building was more like a prehistoric high rise apartment complex.

Exactly why the Sinagua abandoned the cliff-dwellings is not known, but warfare, drought, and clashes with the newly arrived Yavapai people have been suggested. The five-story stone and mortar dwellings contain 20 rooms and once housed about 50 people. Nearby are the remnants of Tuzigoot (Apache for “Crooked Water”), a Singuan Village built on the summit of a ridge. Tuzigoot was two stories high, with 77 ground floor rooms that were accessible via ladders through roof openings. Unfortunately, little of this site has remained.

Montezuma Castle information panel
Due to its isolated location, only about 350,000 tourists visit the site each year. Access to the ruins themselves has not been allowed since 1950 due to extensive damage of the dwelling, and the unstable nature of the limestone cliff face. However, there is a paved trail that leads from the visitor centre and skirts the base of the cliff containing the ruins, from which excellent views of the dwellings can be seen. In addition, numerous information panels (like the one seen at right) provide interesting historical and cultural facts about the cliff-dwellings, and the surrounding landscape.

The dwellings and the surrounding area were declared a U.S. National Monument on December 8, 1906 as a result of the American Antiquities Act, signed earlier in June of the same year. It was one of the four original sites designated National Monuments by President Theodore Roosevelt. The National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.

If you are visiting Montezuma Castle, allow time to visit Montezuma Well several miles away. The well is a limestone sink created by the collapse of a large underground cavern, which is fed by permanent springs. There are also ruins located here from large pueblos to one-room houses.

What You Need To Know
> Operating Hours & Seasons
Open Daily: 8:00 AM-7:00 PM in summer, and 8 AM-5 PM in winter.
Closed on Christmas Day.
Phone: (928) 567-3322

Model depicting internal layout of cliff-dwellings
Montezuma Castle Entrance Fees
Adults (16 and over): $5.00 (good for seven days)
Children (under 16): FREE. Entrance fees for Montezuma Castle are collected inside the park Visitor Center during normal business hours.

Passes are available at a discounted rate of $8.00 for both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments.

More Information

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