High-Rise Living in 700 AD ~ Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona
Montezuma Castle National Monument
The year that my husband and I decided to head north from the Phoenix area after a Butler Paper Company manager's meeting to see sites like Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, the Grand Canyon and more...Montezuma's Castle was on our pre planned Arizona vacation route and we decided to take a look at this National Monument which is also listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.
The name was intriguing.
Montezuma was an Aztec Emperor of Tenochtitlan in Mexico (where Mexico City is now located) and reigned from 1502 to 1520, the latter year being the year of his death. Whether his death was directly due to Cortés and his Spanish troops who were beginning to explore and conquer parts of Mexico for Spanish dominion or the possibility of being stoned by his own people who saw him as being weak against the Spanish invaders is open to question and differing accounts.
The Aztec empire was at its zenith at the time when Hernán Cortés discovered it and began changing the course of history in the central part of Mexico.
The name...Montezuma's Castle...has nothing to do with the Aztec ruler in Mexico but for some reason has been given this name. Could it be that the temples and pyramids made of stone by the Aztecs in Mexico sparked this name when this high-rise cliff dwelling made of stone and built into a limestone cliff was discovered?
Montezuma Castle National Monument sign
At one time there was a creek in the valley below this Montezuma Castle cliff dwelling which would have provided much needed water for the Sinagua Indians who called this part of Arizona their home. The creek was named Beaver Creek, but it disappeared from the surface in the 1400's.
There was a natural overhang with cave like openings high up this stone cliff and the enterprising native Indians decided to make this natural feature more habitable.
Just imagine the work that would have ensued in hauling up pieces of stone and placing and securing them with facings to the front of the cliff and making room dividers!
Ropes and ladders would have been utilized to access the site in building and maintaining it.
Imagine (if you will) carrying up daily rations of food and water perhaps with a papoose on one's back!
Of course if one could have enough provisions stockpiled within the rooms of that cliff dwelling, during times of warfare between Indian tribes, it would have been a safe spot far removed from open conflict being as high up the mountain as it was located and quite easy to defend.
The ropes and ladders would simply have been pulled up and easy access denied to marauding enemies.
World's largest Kokopelli
This is the location where one can find the Montezuma Castle National Monument.
During the times when settlers were homesteading and growing crops, this disrupted the native Indian tribes from their hunting and gathering practices.
A fort was established to help protect the settlers and ultimately to enforce the Indians to stay on reservations...not exactly a shining example of how these first peoples inhabiting these Arizona lands were treated.
The remains of these fort buildings are now part of Fort Verde State Historic Park.
The Yavapai - Apache Nation now operate The Cliff Castle Casino.
Thus this small town of Camp Verde with a population of just over 10,000 people and located off of Interstate 17, has visitors arriving all times of the year for various purposes.
Showcasing the important Indian legacy, a Starbucks sign hosts the supposedly largest Kokopelli sign image in the world. How about that!
When my German girlfriend and I were traveling from Houston to California and back visiting national parks and more...she fell in love with the Kokopelli image and even took souvenirs back home with her. She would have loved seeing this sign!
Pathway to Montezuma's Castle
This national monument is comprised of 826 acres although most people (like us) probably only see a fraction of it.
There is an easy quarter mile paved path from the parking lot which takes one to an area where one can gaze up at this amazing five story structure built up into the cliff.
Supposedly around fifty people used to live there back when it was constructed around 700 AD by the Sinaqua Indians. It was comprised of twenty rooms.
After another 700 years it was deserted.
Was this because the creek below dried up or went underground?
Was it due to warring Indians or disease?
When Sunset Crater erupted, for a time the native Indians deserted this part of Arizona only to return a while later when they realized that the ground was now fortified because of the nutrient rich ashes that had been deposited and which facilitated the growing of corn and other crops.
We may never know the reasons that Montezuma's Castle was deserted but archaeologists will be delving into this mystery for years to come as they discover and research artifacts found on or near this historic site.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
When seeing this cliff dwelling for the first time...this gives a whole new meaning to the term, high-rise living!
Personally, I think that the modern day high-rises with stair wells and elevators would better suit my aging knees rather than thinking of how these Sinagua Indians had to climb up to their cliff dwelling abode. Cheers to modern conveniences!
It used to be that visitors to the Montezuma Castle National Monument could actually climb up ladders and walk through some of the rooms and see this monument first hand.
But to protect this national monument from damage this type of exploration has been banned for a number of years now which is undoubtedly a good thing.
A museum now shows visitors replicas of what the site looks like as well as displaying interesting Indian artifacts found in this area.
Museum exhibit showing Montezuma's Castle as the rooms inside of the national monument would appear with the stone facing in front removed.
Montezuma Castle National Monument - Scenery below the cliff dwelling.
Vacationing in Arizona
I have been fortunate to have been able to vacation in Arizona a number of times and got to once again visit Montezuma's Castle in the late Spring of the year.
The photo to the right shows Montezuma Castle National Monument with leaves on the trees in the foreground.
Anytime of the year would be a good time to see this 700 AD high-rise cliff dwelling built into the limestone cliffs.
Hope that you enjoyed learning a bit about this historic site via the words, photos and videos in this post.
Montezumas Castle Indian Cliff Dwelling
If you enjoyed this article, please take time to give it a star rating. Thank you!!!
© 2011 Peggy Woods
More by this Author
This amazing site just north of Flagstaff is amazing! See photos and videos of this close encounter with bombastic volcanic activity of the past.
Yuma, Arizona information + the (haunted?) old territorial prison & funny poem my grandparents found while visiting there many years ago titled "Me Mudder."
Who would believe that with only 3 ingredients plus salt & pepper this easy chicken entree could become a favorite company dish! Directions & photos.