A Day in Ruins!

Early this morning (yes Sylvia set an alarm) we took off towards the north and made our way to Montezuma’s Castle, an incredible Sinagua Indian cliff dwelling built into a large cavern about 90 minutes from Phoenix. The structure has been described as a 20 room high-rise and was occupied from the 1100’s to the mid 1400’s and then abandoned for unknown reasons. As you can see it was built HIGH up into the cliffs, and while you might think it was for protection, the archaeologists think it was built there because it was the best available location. With the large overhang, they didn’t have to worry about a roof, and the cavern was spacious enough to build a very large condo.


It was named incorrectly by European ‘discoverers’ in the 1860’s after the Aztec Emperor Montezuma who lived in the early 1500’s. He was never anywhere near the site, but the name has stuck.


Up until 1951 you could climb up to the site and enter the buildings, but they stopped that when they noticed how much damage was being done to the structure. They did not mention how many people got hurt trying to climb the bluffs, but I imagine they had some issues with the ladders and the lack of soft landing points below the castle. There was an even larger structure below the upper dwelling, but it has mostly been dismantled by time and vandalism.


Our next stop was at the Montezuma Well, a small spring fed lake about 11 miles from the Castle.


It’s been formed by a collapsed Limestone cavern and provides 1.4 million gallons of water flow each day.  At one time there were dozens of buildings built into the side of the cavern and on the upper rim. A few of them have been restored and as you can see the scattered building blocks strewn over the outside of the rim from the destroyed buildings.


The lake never overflows as there is a vent that drains the water out constantly. It originally flowed into the nearby Beaver River, and the Sinagua people built a long ditch to direct the water to their fields so they would have a constant supply of water even during the dry season. This enabled them to be prosperous and gave them a big advantage at the trading posts all over the area.

There are huge Arizona Sycamore trees all over the area along the river banks. They were used as beams in the dwellings, and some are still in place after 700 years. The trees (like the one below) are very hard  when they’re alive, and when you knock on them it sounds like you’re tapping a steel beam.


Next stop was the Tuzigoot ruins, a 77 room puebla built on the top of a small knoll in the middle of the Verde Valley. It started out as a small cluster of buildings, and as the village population grew, they just added on more and more rooms. As in the case of the Castle and the Well, these buildings were occupied until the mid 1400’s and then abandoned for unknown reasons.


When they discovered the site in the 1930’s it was just a pile of rubble, but when archaeologists started clearing the site they found the foundation stones in place and a few of the interior walls and from there they rebuilt the village.


From there we drove through the town of Jerome which you can see high on the mountainside in this picture, and yes that’s snow on the hillside.


This area is just south of the Red Rock canyons near Sedona, and we had lots of terrific views to see.


The altitude at Tuzigoot is about 4000’, and by the time we passed Jerome, the road wound up and over the mountains and topped out at 7023’ of elevation. When I say wound, I really mean it. This map just doesn’t do justice to how twisty the road was. I really wish I was on a 700 pound motorcycle rather than in a 7000 pound truck. It was a very nice drive, and yes we saw lots of snow. Arizona does have it’s cold spots.

Map picture

When we left in the morning it was approaching 15° in Phoenix, and we saw temps as low as 5° in our travels along with quite a bit of snow in the highest pass. By the time we got back to Phoenix at 7:00 it was still 21° so it looks like we missed a decent day, but we can’t complain about all that we saw and did.



5 responses to “A Day in Ruins!

  1. Very interesting! You two find the neatest places!


  2. Sounds like you had a very interesting day. I’m Glad you are still having fun.


    • It’s pretty easy down here, there just lots to see. Both of the archaeological sites we’ve seen in the last 2 weeks were recommended to us by other people here in the park. We didn’t know much about either of them before we visited.


  3. Impressive, amazing what folks could build a long time ago. I would love to have seen some of those sites. Hey and a picture with both of you, gotta like that! Are you both wearing contacts? Or is that sun glasses on the top of your heads? Keep on learning…. Norma


    • They had a timeline on the wall of the visitor center, and at the same time as this hi-rise condo was being built, the Notre Dame Basilica was being built in Paris. The Europeans definitely were further advanced, but that doesn’t make these ruins any less spectacular.


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