Montezuma Castle National Monument
Looking up at Montezuma Castle
Montezuma Castle National Monument is a site in north central Arizona where the Sinagua people left a large cliff dwelling in the face of a prominent limestone cliff. Castle A is five-stories high and probably had 45-50 rooms with a maximum population of maybe 100 people when it was occupied by the Sinagua. A natural overhang on the cliff shades the structure and protects it from the elements, with the result being that Montezuma Castle is probably the best-preserved prehistoric cliff dwelling in North America. There is evidence of another, larger structure on the face of the cliff but it hasn't survived. This area was abandoned around 1425 CE. As the first construction in this area is estimated to have begun around 700 CE, these buildings above Beaver Creek were inhabited for a long time. Several Hopi clans trace their family roots back to the Montezuma Castle/Beaver Creek area and return on a regular basis to perform religious ceremonies to honor their ancestors.
Montezuma Castle National Monument was designated in 1906 in an effort to get some control over the property and reduce the damage being done by indiscriminate visitors and artifact collectors. However, Montezuma Castle had been completely looted by then.
The professional excavation of Castle A in 1933 unearthed many artifacts which contributed to our understanding of the Sinagua people and their culture. In 1951 the National Park Service finally acted to ban all non-Park Service personnel from the structures themselves. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. About 350,000 people visit this property every year.
Located just below the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona, Montezuma Castle sits at the juncture of the Basin and Range and Colorado Plateau physiographic provinces. This is the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert where annual precipitation runs around 12". However, several perennial streams flow down from the Mogollon uplands to join with the Verde River below and make this area a veritable riparian oasis. Montezuma Castle National Monument is comprised of 826 acres along the edge of the Verde Valley. The Verde River is the only designated Wild and Scenic River in Arizona.
Montezuma Well is a separate unit of Montezuma Castle National Monument, located about 11 miles to the north of the main unit. There are also ancient Sinagua ruins (pueblos, cliff dwellings, pit houses) at Montezuma Well but the real centerpiece of the property is Montezuma Well itself: a collapsed limestone sinkhole through which about 1.5 million gallons of water flow every day. The water is highly carbonated and contains a high level of dissolved arsenic. There are creatures living in this water that aren't found anywhere else on Earth.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Montezuma Castle National Monument Visitor Center is open from 8 am to 6 pm, every day. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, the Visitor Center is open from 8 am to 5 pm, every day except Christmas Day. The Museum in the Visitor Center offers exhibits depicting the culture, history and lifestyle of the Sinagua Indians who lived here so long ago and displays artifacts that were discovered during various of the archaeological excavations that have taken place on the property over the years. The Visitor Center also offers restrooms, drinking water and a book store with a beautiful picnic area just outside the door. For visitors age 16 and up, the entrance fee is $5 per person (ticket good for 7 days). For $8 you can also get a ticket here good for visiting both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monument.
Montezuma Well is also open between Labor Day and Memorial Day from 8 am to 5 pm (every day except Christmas Day), and between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 8 am to 6 pm. There is no entrance fee for the Montezuma Well unit. There are several trails in the Montezuma Well area, flush toilets are located at the visitor contact station (near the parking area) and the picnic area is close by.
Vigas and latillas in the ceiling at Montezuma Castle
Pueblo ruins above Montezuma Well
Looking down from Montezuma Castle
Locations of Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments
Photos and map courtesy of the National Park Service