Castle in a Cliff

After we left Montezuma’s Well, we got back on the interstate for another exit or two until we saw more signs. This time for Montezuma’s Castle. Both Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well are National Park locations so I was able to collect park passport stamps at both locations. It was nice to have such well-marked parks. Often when I’m looking for a location the signs are vague or missing. These were right there in your face. No way to get lost! 🙂

As we were driving on the access road to the Castle parking lot a roadrunner crossed right in front of the car. Those little guys are fast! I could imagine the ” Beep-Beep”! As I was the designated driver there was no camera handy so Mr. Roadrunner escaped without a portrait.

The parking lot is paved and lined and in excellent condition. Once you park, your path takes you past the restrooms to the visitor center. The whole walkway is like a covered portico. The visitor center had a small gift shop and several rangers available to offer suggestions and answer questions.

Passing through the 2nd set of doors sets you on a shaded , paved path that is very easy walking. As you round the first bend in the path the Castle is right there in front of you. What an amazing sight! There is this huge adobe building clinging to the cliff face. The living area extends backward  into the cliff itself. This is the best preserved cliff dwelling in North America.

Unlike Montezuma’s Well, I had seen pictures of Montezuma’s Castle and even watched a documentary at one time so I thought I had an idea what to expect. Boy was I wrong. Nothing in my experience made me ready to see this building  clinging to the side of this cliff. It made me think of the nests swallows build that seem to just hang on the side of a cliff or barn. It is mind-boggling that these ancient people were able to accomplish this gravity defying feat.

The “castle” clings to a Verde Valley limestone cliff. The workmanship demonstrates the skill and tenacity of the Sinagua. They were very daring builders to put it mildly. Access to the dwelling would have been by ladder, with entry to the individual “apartments” through entry holes in the thatched roofs.

The building itself is  5 stories of stone and mortar that contained about 20 rooms and housed as many as 50 people. It’s precarious location perched as it is on the cliff, provided some protection from their marauding enemies. As you can see from the photo with the people at the base of the cliff, that structure is pretty far up there!

A natural overhang offered protection from the elements and provided shade from the hot desert sun. The ruins were so well-preserved when discovered that there were many artifacts still in the building. These artifacts supply archeologists with many clues about life at that time but it hasn’t answered the most burning question…Where did they go and why did they leave?

Farther up the path and still within sight of the “castle” there are more ruins. These were not as well-preserved as the main building, possibly because access was much easier. Built on the same pattern as the cliff dwelling most of the artifacts have been removed over the years by looters.

As the path turned back toward the visitor center leaving the ruins behind there is a small kiosk with an interactive display of what the cliff dwelling might have looked like in its hey day with the people performing the tasks and climbing the ladders in pursuit of their daily life.

The dwelling and the surrounding area has been a National Monument since 1906. Access to the dwelling has been denied since 1950 to preserve what remains of the site and to prevent further damage and looting.

The visitor center  includes a small museum with many of the tools used by the Sinagua to build the dwelling as well as other stone tools used for grinding grain, bone needles for sewing and ornaments. The Sinagua were talented artisans.

Over 350,000 people visit the monument annually. I am pleased to say I am one of them. A very interesting and worthwhile stop on our itinerary.

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