|Today Larry and I spent the afternoon exploring the Montezuma Castle and Well. The castle is just two miles from I-17 at the end of a side road that winds across flat scrub land and down into the valley formed by Beaver Creek - a small stream, but a reliable source of water all year round and hence a good locality for the Sinagua to establish a home.
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 Sinagua 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”.
The Sinagua Indian Tribe built the cliff dwellings about 700 years ago in the early 1300s, an imposing 20 room, 5-story structure built into a recess in a white limestone cliff about 70 feet above the ground. As you will note in the informational signs, it took ladders to climb to Montezuma Castle and as the Sinagua 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.
For unknown reasons, the Sinagua 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 Sinagua survivors, they were likely absorbed into other Indian Tribes to the north.
We recommend this stop, as it is an easy monument for everyone to visit. There is a paved trail of 1/4 mile from the visitor center along the base of the cliff containing the ruins. Even though access to the ruins has not been allowed since 1950, it is definitely worth the $5 entrance fee. (We got in for free with Larry's Golden Age Pass). We're heading on down the road to visit Montezuma's Well now. See you there!