Touring the ancient archaeological sites of the Southwest is an educational experience for visitors of all ages. Visiting an ancient pueblo does provide an opportunity to gain some insight into the lifestyle and beliefs of native cultures, which revolve around a harmonious relationship with the Mother Earth Spirit. Achieving harmony in the harsh desert climate is one thing, but actually flourishing as a civilization in such an environment is quite an achievement in itself.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is the home of one of the most spectacular ancient pueblos 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 stashed in this region during the Spanish conquest had a lot to do with the 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 large pueblo structure in the 1100s. The Sinagua People occupied many similar pueblo sites in the Valley Verde region and the same culture occupied this area too. Tuzigoot National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument are other examples of Sinagua pueblos that are waiting to be experienced.
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 Sinagua people did return after the dust settled and they occupied Montezuma Castle till the severe drought of the 1300s caused many 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 treasure hunters in the early 1900s, because this part of Montezuma Castle provided a wealth of information about the Sinagua people. Fortune seekers in 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 they were protected for future generations.
Montezuma Castle is located on a towering sheer cliff face that overlooks the lush green Beaver Creek basin. 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 cottonwood trees provides cooler temperatures during the summer months and the winter weather is bearable this far south. There are picnic areas and plenty of park benches that offer great views, so this is a relaxing spot to be. There also 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 cliff dwelling 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. This National Monument is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but civilization and modern amenities can be found 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 basecamp when exploring what the Beaver Creek region has to offer. Visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument is a must to do, especially when doing a native heritage tour. This is a very relaxing place to spend the afternoon and the memories can be pondered over for a lifetime!
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