A relatively last-minute add to our Arizona itinerary was Montezuma Castle National Monument. Brian and I had each added it to our itinerary in our respective research, and when we found ourselves with some free time during our stay in West Sedona, we decided to make a quick trip to see it.
It turns out there are actually three related ‘stops’ to learn about the Southern Sinagua people who lived in this area for hundreds of years – Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot National Monument. Parts of the experiences were closed due to COVID-19, so we only checked out the castle, which was a relatively quick stop. Happily, we were able to use our America the Beautiful National Parks pass, so it was also a free stop!
After popping in the visitor center, we walked a short path to the castle – the remains of it, anyway. This five-story, 20-room dwelling was built into the cliffs between 1100-1300 AD in this fertile area near a creek, making it a safe and comfortable place for the Sinagua farmers to live.
A docent was nearby to share information beyond what was in our brochure, namely how they think the structure was built and the ladder system they believe was used for people to get up and down – not only from the 100-foot drop to the ground below, but within the multiple levels of the structure.
I was interested to learn that visitors used to be able to go inside! Because of the erosion and damage, they had to stop that practice several decades ago – now you can only view it from below.
A short walk later we were at the other major section of cliffside housing – Castle A – which is much more deteriorated but was originally much bigger with about 45 rooms!
As we walked around, the docent at this spot called our attention to the holes in the cliff, likely marking where wooden beans protruded as part of the structure. This area was interesting in that there was also evidence of structures on the ground in front of the cliffs, likely for cooking.
According to the National Park Service:
No one knows why the Southern Sinagua migrated away from their pueblos by the early 1400s. It may have been overpopulation, depletion of resources, disease, conflicts within or between groups, climate change, or perhaps spiritual beliefs. Whatever the reason, many Southern Sinagua likely migrated northward to pueblo villages. Others may have stayed in the Verde Valley and returned to hunter-gatherer ways.
A mysterious and intriguing historical stop if you’re looking for something to fill some time when you’re visiting Sedona, but definitely a short stop and probably not something I would prioritize over hiking around the red rocks.
Perhaps we’ll check out the Tuzigoot National Monument next time we’re there to compare the experience.