Montezuma Castle National Monument is a cliff dwelling built by the Sinagua Indians in 1150. Later, in the 1300’s it was abandoned for reasons still unknown today. The settlers who first discovered the dwelling’s remains believed that the Aztec emperor Montezuma, who was fleeing from the Spanish conquistadors, built it. Thus, the name Montezuma Castle was given to the structure. The name has stuck. The word castle can be a stretch. You will not find a true castle, but in those times I am sure it was a castle. A structure nestled in the limestone recess is an amazing sight.
The dwelling is a 5-story stone and mortar structure set back underneath a cliff ledge at a height of 100 feet. It is believed that wood ladders connected the different floor levels. The structure includes 20 rooms and was occupied by about 50 people. The location of the dwelling was ideal. The cliff overhang gives protection from rain, snow, and the hot summer sun. In addition, the dwelling overlooks Beaver Creek.
There is another much larger structure built against the base of the cliff, but unfortunately it did not stand the test of time as well as the cliff structure. It is now badly deteriorated. The larger structure called “Castle A” had 6-stories and about 45 rooms.
It is believed that the ash-pink adobe castle was reached by a series of ladders placed against the face of the cliff. Its first floor is a horizontal row of eight rooms. Some of the bricks set in cement still show the fingerprints of the original mason. The roofs were probably constructed in the usual pueblo manner with sycamore beams and successive toppings of small sticks, reeds and thick layer of adobe that formed the floor of the story above. As the community grew, each new family constructed its own addition to the castle. The structure is forty feet high and the fifth story reaches the very top of the natural cave. The number of rooms decreases in each ascending story till the fifth story has but two rooms and a plaza on it.
Montezuma Castle is one of the best-preserved examples of cliff dwellings in the country. Over a million visitors come to see the dwelling each year. Due to its popularity, there is a heightened concern for its preservation. These dwellings are very fragile, so visitors are not permitted to walk through the structure. The taking of cultural and natural materials from the site is also prohibited.
Visitors can see the dwellings from the path at the base of the cliff. This path is wheelchair accessible. The paved one third of a mile self-guided trail is the only way to view the dwelling. Rangers are available on the trail to answer questions.
A Visitor Center has many artifacts found in the area on display. There are exhibits showing what life was like for the Sinagua people. A diorama/audio program depicts an interior view of the cliff dwellings. Visitors will also learn about the various plant, wildlife and geology of the Verde Valley, where Montezuma Castle is located. The Visitor Center has books for sale that are great for learning more about the past cultures, wildlife and plants.
Springtime is the most popular time to visit. December and January are the slowest times of the year. Visitors are urged to plan on spending 45 minutes to an hour taking in the Monument. There are picnic tables available near the creek. Benches and drinking fountains are sprinkled along the path to the cliff dwelling.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is open everyday from 8:00 to 5:00, during the winter months and 8:00 to 7:00 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you would like more information on the Monument, you may call 520-567-3597.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is approximately three miles north of Camp Verde. You can get there from Camp Verde by taking Main Street north out of downtown Camp Verde. This road changes into Montezuma Castle Highway. Continue along the highway, until you see signs for the turn off to the castle. You can get there from Phoenix or Tucson by taking Interstate 17 north out of town. When you get to exit 289 for Camp Verde take it. Head east on Middle Verde Road for a short distance, until you see the signs for the Monument. It is approximately 90 miles north of Phoenix. You can get to the Monument from Flagstaff by taking Interstate 17 south out of town. When you get to exit 289 for Camp Verde take it. Head east on Middle Verde Road for a short distance, until you see the signs for the Monument. The monument is approximately 50 miles south of Flagstaff.
Montezuma Castle National Monument is a special place to me. My mother worked and lived at the Monument, while I was in school at Northern Arizona University. I have many memories of weekends wandering the grounds after dark, in the shadow of the Sinagua Indian home.