Montezuma Castle National Monument
Touring the ancient archaeological sites of the Southwest is an educational experience for visitors of all ages. Visiting an ancient pueblo site does provide an opportunity to gain some insight into the lifestyle and beliefs of native cultures, which have always revolved around a harmonious relationship with the Mother Earth Spirit. Surviving in a harsh desert climate is one thing, but actually flourishing as a civilization in such an environment is quite an achievement in itself. The factors that contribute to achieving societal sustainability in a harsh desert environment are not always easy for an outsider to see, yet by visiting an ancient pueblo site the clues will become evident.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is the home of one of the most spectacular ancient pueblo archaeological sites in the Southwest. Contrary to what the name would suggest, this old pueblo cliff dwelling has nothing to do with Montezuma or European castles. By historical accounts, the Aztec leader Montezuma was not born till well after this pueblo was abandoned sometime in the early 1400s. However, the legend of Montezuma’s treasure being relocated to this region during the Spanish conquest had a lot to do with the choice of name given to this site.
Montezuma Castle was gradually built over the course of many years. More than likely this pueblo began as a simple cliff dwelling shelter that could have been started by any number of tribes way back when. Eventually the shelter took shape as a complex pueblo structure in the 1100s. The Sinagua People occupied many similar pueblo sites in the Valley Verde region, so it is likely the same culture occupied this area too. Tuzigoot National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument are examples of similar Sinagua pueblo sites.
Not only was Montezuma Castle built in the 1100s, this big pueblo was also first abandoned during the same period of time. The Sunset Crater Volcano eruption up north by Flagstaff caused many native cultures to abandon this region during this period of history. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Senagua people did return after the dust settled and they occupied Montezuma Castle till the severe drought of the 1300s caused many pueblo civilizations in this region to permanently migrate elsewhere.
Montezuma Castle has at least 20 rooms and there was a second pueblo located on this same cliff face that also had multiple rooms. Only the foundation remains from the second pueblo. Fortunately the rubble was not noticed by the treasure hunters in the early 1900’s and this part of Montezuma Castle provided a wealth of information about the Sinagua people.
Fortune seekers of the early 1900s destroyed nearly every pueblo in this region in their quest for valuable ancient artifacts. Looting continued until the Antiquities Act was set in place during the Theodore Roosevelt era. The pueblos of the Montezuma Castle region were some of the first to be given National Monument Status by this great president, so from then on this site gas been protected for future generations.
Montezuma Castle is an ancient native heritage site that is like no other! This pueblo is located on a towering sheer cliff face that overlooks the lush green river bed of Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek winds through many valleys and canyons in this region and the life giving waters were the primary reason why so many ancient cultures were drawn to this place. When standing in the shade of the trees by the creek and looking up at the ominous pueblo cliff dwelling, it is easy to imagine how good life must have been way back when.
The Montezuma Castle National Monument is a comfortable place to spend the day. The shade from the cliff and trees provides cooler temperatures during the summer months and the winter weather is bearable this far south. There are picnic areas in this park and plenty of park benches that offer great views. There is an amphitheater where members of local tribes perform and native arts are featured in the gift shop. The gift shop also is a museum that offers a wealth of information about Montezuma Castle and the natural history of this region. Old fashioned ancient Mayan style raw chocolate can also be found at this shop. Munching on some spicy bitter chocolate while looking at the big pueblo kind of has a way of making one feel like a tourist from ancient times!
The Montezuma Castle National Monument is located just off of Interstate Highway 17 at the Middle Verde Road exit. A short drive leads to the pueblo location by Beaver Creek. This National Monument is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but civilization and modern amenities are close by in the Yavapai-Apache Nation. The Yavapai-Apache Nation hosts a cultural center museum, a few restaurants and a modern casino resort. The Cliff Castle Casino is a posh resort that is a good choice for a base camp when exploring what the Beaver Creek region has to offer. Nearby points of interest include the Coconino National Forest, Beaver Creek Day Use Picnic Site and Montezuma Well. Tuzigoot, Walnut Canyon and Sedona are only about 45 minutes away, so exploring more ancient sites in the region is an option for the travel itinerary.
Visiting Montezuma Castle is a must to do at least once in a lifetime. The towering ancient pueblo cliff dwelling is a prime example of the effectiveness of the Antiquities Act and the National Monument system for protecting ancient heritage sites. Unfortunately these heritage site protections are threatened by corporate sponsored political corruption, show showing support does help the cause. Now is the time to visit, take photos and share the pictures, so people will see why National Monuments like Montezuma Castle should be preserved for future generations. Tourism activism is as easy as that and Montezuma Castle certainly is a great place to sharpen photography skills!