Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona: High-Rise Living in 700 AD
The year that my husband and I decided to head north from the Phoenix area to see sites like Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and more, Montezuma's Castle was on our planned Arizona vacation route. 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 to us.
Naming of This Monument
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, it 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?
At one time, there was a creek in the valley below this Montezuma Castle cliff dwelling. It would have provided much-needed water for the Sinagua Indians who called this part of Arizona their home. The creek was named Beaver Creek. It disappeared from the surface in the 1400s.
There was a natural overhang with cave-like openings high up this stone cliff. The 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.
Location of This National Monument
Camp Verde is the location where one can find the Montezuma Castle National Monument. This small town of Camp Verde, with a population of just over 10,000 people and located off of Interstate 17 have visitors arriving at all times of the year for various purposes.
During the times when settlers were homesteading and growing crops, this disrupted the native tribes from their hunting and gathering practices. A fort was established to help protect the settlers and ultimately to enforce the native Americans to stay on reservations. It was 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 operates The Cliff Castle Casino.
A Starbucks sign in Camp Verde that showcases the Indian legacy hosts the reputedly largest Kokopelli sign image in the world. When my German girlfriend and I were traveling from Houston to California and back visiting national parks, she fell in love with the Kokopelli image. She would have loved seeing this sign!
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 fantastic 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 Sinagua 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 the volcano at Sunset Crater erupted, the native Americans deserted this part of Arizona for a time. They returned sometime later. The ground was now fortified with nutrient-rich ashes that had been deposited. That enriched soil 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.
High Rise Living
When seeing this cliff dwelling for the first time, it gives a whole new meaning to the term high rise living!
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 many 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.
Any time of the year would be an excellent time to see this 700 AD high rise cliff dwelling built into the limestone cliffs. I hope that you enjoyed learning a bit about this historic site via the words, photos, and videos in this post.
Have you ever visited Montezuma's Castle?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Peggy Woods