Most Preserved Ancient Cliff Dwellings in America
They were the Sinaquas. Ancient Indian Tribe who built the cliff dwellings called Montezuma Castle about 700 years ago in the early 1300s. And for unknown reasons, the Sinaqua abandoned their habitat in this Verde Valley Arizona area in the 1400s. Maybe they had over extended agricultural pressure on the land. Perhaps there was a lengthy drought or they could have been eliminated through conflict with the Yavapai Indians that still exist today. If there were any Sinaqua survivors, they were likely absorbed into other Indian Tribes to the north.
Interestingly, the name Montezuma Castle was a mistaken name. Early settlers who discovered the cliff dwelling ruins erroneously connected them to the Aztec emperor Montezuma, but in-fact the Sinaqua ruins had been abandoned a hundred years before Montezuma was even born. And the dwellings weren’t a castle at all, but a multi-family “prehistoric high rise apartment complex”.
No doubt the Sinaqua were daring builders having scaled the high cliffs to carve-out a recessed area into the limestone walls to erect these strongly built dwellings high above overlooking the Beaver Creek area just a few miles from what is now known as Camp Verde Arizona.
It took ladders to climb to Montezuma Castle and as the Sinaqua reached each level, the ladders made their way to the cliff community making it difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate the natural defense of straight-vertical barriers.
The area must have been the ideal place for the Sinaquas to build Montezuma Castle. The prehistoric Hohokam Indians had been here hundreds of years previously and had built irrigation systems for farming and proved equally as valuable to the Sinaquas. There was an abundant water supply provided by the creeks. The land was fertile and a variety of wildlife including deer, antelope and bear offered good hunting that augmented a primary diet of corn. There is also visual evidence that the Sinaqua mined salt in the area. Combined with the natural safety of the cliffs, this was the perfect place to build Montezuma Castle.
Artifacts confirmed the Sinaqua were fine artisans. Stone tools, metates for grinding corn, bone needles that wove colorful garments and ornaments of shell, turquoise and local gemstones have been discovered. Pottery was not an ornate craft but simply plain ware for cooking.
Montezuma Castle is a five-story, 20-room cliff dwelling that sits in a recessed area into the cliffs. Nearby is Tuzigoot (Apache for “Crooked Water”), remnants of a Sinquan Village built on a ridge summit. Tuzigoot was two stories high with 77 ground floor rooms that were assessable via ladders through roof openings.
The Montezuma Well is several miles away which is a limestone sink created by the collapse of a large underground cavern. The well is continuously fed by springs which both the Sinaquas and Hohokams used to irrigate crops. There are also ruins located here from large pueblos to one-room houses.
About one million visitors a year come to Montezuma Castle National Monument. There are no lodging or camping facilities, but motels are very nearby in Camp Verde Arizona, and Sedona offers fine hotels and resorts about 30 miles away. Phoenix is about 87 miles south and Flagstaff Arizona is about 50 miles north.
Montezuma Castle is open every day of the year at 8:00 a.m. with a summer closing of 7:00 p.m. and winter hours until 5:00 p.m. There is a very modest entrance fee and children under 16 are admitted free. The Montezuma Visitors Center has a small museum displaying artifacts and the park includes paved, self-guiding trails which are wheel chair assessable.
When visiting Arizona, Montezuma Castle offers a great cultural experience.