Montezuma Castle National Monument

 

Montezuma Castle National Monument is not a big secret like many of the other locations that I cover. I felt the desire to cover it despite that, because I find this site to be of interest. Directions to the site are easy: Follow I-17 to exit 289 (90 minutes north of Phoenix, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). Drive east (through two traffic circles) for approximately 1/2 mile to the blinking red light. Turn left on Montezuma Castle Road.

There is a small entrance fee of $5.00 per person. Children under 16 years of age are free.

There is a short walk to the ruin site along a paved walk-way. Everyone should be able to visit this location with ease.

Montezuma Castle is believed to be between 600 – 800 years old. Despite its name it isn’t a castle, but rather a cliff-dwelling. It was named after the Aztec ruler Montezuma, who ruled over the Aztec empire from 1502 to 1520. The earliest white settlers that came upon the ruins believed that they where part of Montezuma’s vast empire.  This belief was later proved incorrect based on archaeological evidence that dated the ruins to an earlier time, somewhere between 1200 to 1450.

The actual inhabitants where the Sinagua people. The Sinagua people inhabited the Verde Valley from 1100 to between 1400 and 1450. The same people are responsible for the ruins at nearby Montezuma Well, Tuzigoot, the cliff dwellings in the Sedona area,  the Walnut Canyon ruins near Flagstaff, as well as the petroglyphs at the V_V Ranch site.  Montezuma Castle is presumed to be the last place in which the Sinagua people lived before leaving the Verde Valley for unknown reasons.

The cliff-dwelling consists of five floors, and twenty rooms. It was built 100 feet above the canyon floor. The cliff that the dwelling was built into consists of a whitish, fairly soft limestone that has weathered to produce numerous alcoves and caves, some of which had been used for living or storage spaces.  Ladders were used by the inhabitants to gain access to the dwelling.

 

The few remaining walls at the "Castle A" ruins site.

The few remaining walls at the “Castle A” ruins site.

 

Just a short walk from the Montezuma Castle site is the ruins of another dwelling. This dwelling is referred to as “Castle A” or “Site A” by archeologists. “Castle A” was once a larger structure than Montezuma Castle, consisting of 40-45 rooms. Because of the location of this dwelling it has not withstood the test of time. Unlike Montezuma Castle, “Castle A” was built at the base of the canyon with nothing overhead to have kept the structure out of the hundreds of years of weather. All that remains today of “Castle A” is the outline of the bottom level foundation, and a few stone walls.

In all the ruins at Montezuma Castle National Monument are well worth a visit if you are in the area. The castle is considered the most well-preserved cliff-dwellings in the United States. Despite a number of reconstruction and stabilization efforts over the last one hundred years,  ninety percent of the structure is still original and untouched.

 

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.