The National Park Service maintains 22 units in the state of Arizona that range from a frontier trading post to the Grand Canyon. Over our lifetimes Ruth and I have been to 19 of them and we have repeated several like Montezuma’s Well. We added 3 to our been there list this trip including Tuzigoot and the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Our favorite smaller facility is Pipe Spring NM and Chiricahua is among our larger favorites.
Montezuma’s Castle is not a castle, and Montezuma ruled Mexico long after settlers, who assumed a connection, named this large cliff dwelling after him. Montezuma’s Castle is a 5 story, 20 room cliff dwelling just off I-17 north of Phoenix that some consider the most well-preserved, ancient dwelling in the United States. The Sinagua people climbed ladders up to it for 600 years before leaving to join other communities of Native Americans long before Montezuma lived.
It was an ideal residence in a canyon wall. From their perch, the Sinaguas could see their food supply growing, had plenty of water from Beaver Creek to use on their crops, and could see the approach of anyone who might be intent on hurting them. The Beaver flowed into the important Verde River, and the Verde Valley where Montezuma’s Castle is placed had water all year. There were 40 sustainable villages in this valley at one time including other cliff dwellings. Security guaranteed, the Sinaguas were able to focus on developing pottery, textiles, and jewelry.
Rivers and streams provided other benefits. Mesquite and the Arizona Sycamore trees grew along them. Mesquites provided both food and medicine. Natives produced a type of candy from them. The sycamores provided wood for ceiling beams in their cliff homes. They even found uses for obnoxious plants like the one they called the scratching bush. They made furniture from its wood and derived honey from it.
Montezuma’s Castle was an important tourist attraction long before Ruth & I first saw it. One of the artifacts from early on that the National Park Service has preserved is a very old diorama that showed guided tour groups what the now inaccessible cliff dwellings looked like inside. This diorama’s usefulness ended 70 years ago. Visitors can still learn today a lot about plants, trees, and living there. I heard one man tell his son, “This is almost like a staged Hollywood set.”