Monday, October 20, 2008

Montezuma Castle

My vacation officially ended yesterday afternoon with a stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is located about 45 minutes south of Flagstaff. This 1,000 year-old cliff dwelling was built by the Sinagua people, who left the area approximately 600 years ago. Why they left is unknown; however, possible reasons include overpopulation, climate change, and intergroup strife. Their final destination is also a mystery, although legends and folkways suggest that the Sinagua joined the Hopi living in the mesas north of the region.

Europeans discovered the ruin in 1874. They erroneously concluded that the area had been settled by Aztecs who had migrated north, so they named it after the legendary Aztec ruler. The name stuck.

As this National Park Service diorama illustrates, Montezuma Castle contained 19 rooms. It was home to 35-50 people, and it was one of a number of pueblo structures built into the cliffs of Arizona's Verde Valley.

The building sits about 100 feet above the valley floor; you can see the remnants of the steps leading up the cliff in the lower right side of the image above.

Archaeologists discovered that another pueblo dwelling sat at the foot of the cliffs several hundred feet away. However, unlike Montezuma Castle, this dwelling was not protected from the elements. Only remnants survive.

It's possible to see Montezuma Castle in about an hour, making it an accessible and interesting stop for those traveling between Flagstaff and Phoenix on I-17. It's also an aesthetically pleasing structure, and the National Park Service's interpretive signs and exhibits are first-rate. It's definitely worth a stop if you're in the area.

If you would like to see more of Montezuma Castle, the National Park Service has placed some historic photographs online.

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