Today I decided to head north and check out the sights with the idea of seeing Sedona and anything that is of interest along the way. It’s a long drive from Benson and traffic is stupid busy on a Saturday but beggars like me can’t be choosers. No matter, I headed north on I-10 and I-17 until I was in Camp Verde, Arizona for my first stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument.
I had an early start on the day and arrived just in time for the visitor center to open. You should definitely check out the historical displays and artifacts to learn more about this place – it may not be what you think…
Case in point: Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, was never here. In fact, since this location was abandoned around 1400 CE, Montezuma the Aztec may not have even been alive yet. It was named this way by European settlers who mistook the cultures and named it erroneously. Instead it was the Sinagua, a group of different cultures and tribes who all shared this space over a period of several hundred years. (Bonus fun fact: the name Sinagua was also given by Spanish explorers who thought it was without water – also incorrect.) The true settlers of this area were ancestors of the Hohokam and Hakataya, and their descendants include members of the Hopi and Yavapai communities.
Leaving the visitor center, it is a very short walk on an accessible paved path to the cliff dwelling. Along the way are several interpretive signs and educational displays about the archaeology and natural features.
It only takes a minute to reach the main attraction, a massive and well-preserved cliff dwelling that sits some 90 feet above the trail under the limestone alcove. I couldn’t find an accurate count of how many levels are inside but it is likely at least 5 or more stories tall.
Here’s another view of Montezuma’s Castle from a more direct angle. The castle was looted heavily by European settlers in the late 19th and 20th centuries, as at the time you could walk inside the structure via a series of ladders. Theodore Roosevelt passed the Antiquities Act in 1906 which offered additional protection as a historic landmark. Ranger guided tours were still given up until 1951 when they were discontinued to further protect the structure for future generations.
Along the interpretive trail there is a large diorama constructed by the National Park Service’s Musem Laboratory to show visitors arriving after 1951 what the inside of Montezuma Castle would have looked like.
Below the main structure there are small alcoves in the rocky cliffs that don’t look like much, however these are also part of the original mega-structure that stood here hundreds of years ago. Most of the lower structures have crumbled due to several factors including floods, erosion, fire, and other natural forces.
Here’s a slightly wider view of the lower section. Some of the base foundations are still visible and I believe some are said to be reconstructed by the park service. This area would have been what they called “Castle A” which in itself was a massive structure standing 5 stories tall.
As you walk around the small path it is interesting to also observe the natural features that allowed this civilization to exist and thrive. Beaver creek is not far off the path and drains into the Verde River, both of which helped them to grow small crops via irrigation much like their Hohokam descendants. One of the most important crops grown was cotton which was central to the trade economy of such a large group. Much of the castle structure incorporates cordage and wood both sources from the local Arizona Sycamore as seen here – a very unique tree that constantly sheds it’s bark and appears almost naked.
I did not realize there is another feature not far from here called Montezuma’s Well during this visit. If you go here, check the NPS site as there are sometimes closures (right now in 2022 that trail is shut down for bees and bats). At least for now it’s onward to the next stop!
Lat = 34.6130867 , Long = -111.8366623 -- Show at Google Maps
Author’s Note: Due to many reasons – none of them very good – I’m posting this from the future in July 2022. Actual visit date/time December 14, 2019 9:34am. I’ll backdate it later so as to maintain chronological order. I’ve got an overwhelming backlog of photos to process which is probably why I procrastinate. Hope you enjoy them all the same.