A Slow Travel Guide to Northern Arizona
Travel,  USA

A Guide to Montezuma Castle (Plus History And Facts)

With its rugged landscape and long history, Montezuma Castle is perfect for a day of exploring. Here’s a guide to this Arizona wonder.

A sign with two crossed feathers greets you saying: “Welcome to the Yavapai-Apache Nation,” as you head down the quiet road lined with old houses and cluttered porches until you enter the Montezuma Castle National Monument.

The visitor’s center has an exhibit on the daily life of the Southern Sinagua, a pre-Columbian culture that flourished here in the Verde Valley centuries ago and built the dwelling that would later be called Montezuma Castle.

European colonizers named the structure mistakenly because they assumed it had a connection to the famous Aztec emperor.

A Slow Travel Guide to Northern Arizona

The Sinagua were mainly farmers who relied heavily on corn. Displays show their trademark reddish-brown pottery, and the decorated pottery likely traded from the Hopi. There are also tools for grinding corn, and artistic gemstone ornaments.

The Sinagua lived in unstable pueblos built from local materials. But they built Montezuma Castle expertly.

It has survived for over 700 years tucked into the mountain inside a natural alcove and protected from the elements.

MONTEZUMA CASTLE

Montezuma Castle

A path lined with creosote bushes leads to this Arizona wonder.

Montezuma Castle looms some 27 meters up a sheer limestone cliff, built high possibly to escape the annual flooding of nearby Beaver Creek.

The castle has some 370 square meters of floor space across five stories built over generations by skilled and courageous engineers. A series of ladders once accessed the dwellings.

The castle perches precariously but is defiantly stable.

It was abandoned for unknown reasons – perhaps during a drought, or amid clashes with the Yavapai.

It has borne centuries of Arizona sun and now looks as solid as the cliff it sits on. The castle blends into the landscape and distinguishes itself as man-made only with its straight lines and square windows.

A Slow Travel Guide to Northern Arizona

There are snaking trails at the base of the monument and signs that give the Latin names, histories and uses of various bushes and trees.

Many are so familiar they blend into the landscape. But they’re fascinating when studied closer.

There is the creosote bush whose resinous scent fills the Arizona air especially after summer rains. It’s one of the oldest plants on earth – and a wonder that cures anything from dandruff to infections.

The pale green velvet mesquite has seeds that can be ground and then baked for protein. While the oneseed juniper provides fuel and light. The Hopi use it for stomach ailments.

There’s a well and the remnant of a Sinagua village nearby, also part of the national monument.

Read about the first part of this road trip (the Grand Canyon).

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