I’ve explored a bit of California’s deserts, but my recent adventure in Arizona provided more than deserts and mountains.  Having never visited any cliff dweller ruins, I discovered that my bus trip was well worth the effort as we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument.

Some very brief background

About one thousand years ago, a small community of pre-Columbian people known as the Sinagua lived in the cliffs along Beaver Creek, not far from present-day Camp Verde, Arizona.  The village thrived for about three hundred years, and then everyone disappeared.  When Europeans discovered the cliff dwellings, they erroneously thought the structures were made by Aztecs, hence the name Montezuma.  As for the castle part, I’ll let you decide.

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle

Visitors walk along a paved path beneath the cliffs.  No one is allowed to scale the heights and enter the dwellings.  Visitors did so in the past, but this sort of thing was causing too much damage to the fragile structures.  The cliffs are also not that sturdy.  They’re limestone.  I wouldn’t want to climb them.  The dwelling is about ninety feet above the canyon floor.

I met a docent who explained that the darker colored building is an area restored by the National Park Service.  In time, It will weather and be the pale sand color of the upper section.  He also pointed out the dark curved opening above the castle.  This is the entrance to a cave or storage area.  It marks the fifth floor of the building.

The view

Since I couldn’t climb the cliff, I opted to use some images from the National Park Service.

Looking West from the top of Montezuma Castle. Photo provided by NPS

In the above image, one can see Beaver Creek.  I was told that this is a dependable water source and that the Sinaqau, as well as the Hohokam at Montezuma Well, were clever agriculturalists.  Both communities built dikes and ditches still in use today.  I couldn’t wait to see the creek, but alas, this must be one of the rare dry years.

Beaver Creek near Montezuma Castle

Beaver Creek near Montezuma Castle

The water level is little more than a trickle.

The Well

Hoping to see something spectacular, we left the castle and headed to Montezuma Well.  This is basically a sinkhole, a subterranean limestone cave that collapsed and the water from a nearby spring flowed into it.   After walking up a small hill, I was greeted with this.

Montezuma Well

Montezuma Well

The well is fed by spring water.  I heard some visitors saying the level is much lower than usual, but the water never disappears completely.

The water isn’t potable.  The ducks like it, but it’s not for human consumption due to the high arsenic content.  There aren’t any fish in the well because of the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the water.  Why do the ducks like it?

As with all historic sites, I visit them in ignorance and leave with questions.  I never have enough time to explore the area, the culture, or the gift shop.  On the other hand, I now know about the wonders of Camp Verde, Arizona.  I enjoyed my visit, and it isn’t over yet!

To see more images from Montezuma Castle and the Well, please click here.



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