The twenty room Montezuma Castle is considered the showpiece village although the National Park Service points out that at one time there were perhaps eighty-five additional rooms to the ones you see today. It's estimated that some 150 people inhabited the village at one time.
When you visit Montezuma Castle you are experiencing the world of the Pre-Columbian Southern Sinagua. This was a prehistoric culture who lived as hunters and gatherers in the Verde Valley for thousands of years. Advances in both agriculture and architecture in the valley are credited by the influence of the Hohokam tribe residing to the south and the the Northern Sinagua peoples to the north.
|Cliff dwellings built under protruding rock|
There are no written accounts as to the daily life of the cliff dwelling people of this age however there is a lot of speculation as to what it would have been like. Residents may have entered through the door and then used ladders to go from room to room. A family may have resided in one room with little furnishings and mats to sit and sleep on.
Occupations that were prevalent were agriculture and weaving as well as hunting and gathering. The hunting and gathering supplemented the first two. Which tribe member was responsible for what task most likely depended on age and stature within the village. Inhabitants were known to have grown corn, beans, squash and cotton. The second occupation was weaving using the cotton grown in the valley. The cotton grown there turned out to being some of the finest cloth in all of the southwest. This cloth and salt which was excavated from nearby mines were traded among neighboring tribes. Many of these tribes traveled hundreds of miles along the river that led to the general site of Montezuma Castle.
|Montezuma Castle paved hiking trail|
Families would grind corn, make baskets and pottery and dry skins.
At night, the cliff dwellers lit fires within their rooms for heat and a glow was seen out side the windows and doors.
The Cliff Structures
Montezuma Castle is noted for it's "T" shaped doors. Interestingly enough, the T shaped doors is common with the Puebloan people who occupied the Four Corners region but not so with those from central Arizona. Archeologists are uncertain whether this was an original door or added on to later.
Cliff Dwellings were typically built under protruding portions of cliffs. At Montezuma Castle these are limestone cliffs. These cliff dwellings and the surrounding area of 826 acres were declared a U.S. National Monument in 1906.
|Beaver Creek flowing past cliff dwellings|
Some stories contend that the ancient people of the southwest vanished sometime around 1425 A.D. What is known is that during the late 1300's many societal changes took place and the native population decided to move. As to why the exodus took place is still not fully understood and archeologists continue to study the subject. The reasons could be one or a combination of several occurrences. Changing climate, depletion of water resources, religious differences, disease, could all be reasons to explain the exodus. The National Park Service however points out that, at least in the case of Montezuma Castle, inhabitants may have left the village in small groups over time. There is no single date known when everyone left at one time. It's thought that many joined together to become the modern day Hopi and Zuni tribes.
Interesting links to additional Western Trips photo articles relating to the southwest cliff dwelling peoples include the Puye Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico, Bandelier National Monument just north of Santa Fe New Mexico and Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.
Visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument is open seven days a week from 8A to 5P. The park is closed on Christmas Day.
|Montezuma Castle Visitor Center|
Ranger programs are offered daily and a self-guided, 1/4-mile paved loop trail leads you past an incredible 5-story cliff dwelling, through a fascinating sycamore grove and along spring fed Beaver Creek, one of only a few perennial streams in Arizona.
Montezuma Castle is a great addition to your Arizona vacation planner and is a fun and educational visit for the entire family. As mentioned above, it's location just off Interstate 17 and between Phoenix and Flagstaff make visiting the monument easy.
(Photos are from author's private collection)
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