Exploring the Montezuma Indian cliff dwellings & well
I love combing a road trip to a scenic destination along with a visit to a historic or cultural attraction and the area around Highway 17 north of Phoenix is filled with early Indian civilization and pueblos or cave dwellings. Central and Southern Arizona shares a lot of Indian history and culture with their ancient civilizations throughout Arizona. Just a short hour and 1/2 drive north of Phoenix is a rich area that were the ancient Indian Sinagua people who lived along the sandstone cliffs and close to fertile rivers to grow their livelihoods. The Montezuma Castle national monument, Montezuma’s well and the Pictographs are rich in this history with intact Indian dwells along the cliffs and surrounding the Montezuma well. This area of the Southern Arizona plains where the ancient Sinagua tribes lived in small communities from 1100 to 1425 and eventually moves further up north and merging with many other contemporary Indian tribes including the Hopi Indians of the Grand Canyon. Check out tour highlights exploring the Montezuma Indian cliff dwellings & well below.
A visit to the Montezuma Indian cliff dwellings
The Montezuma Indian cliff dwellings & well tour highlights
The Montezuma castle national monument was established in 1906 through Theodore Roosevelt as part of the Antiquities act to prevent more looting in these pueblos and other monuments. The most impressive feature of this monument is the 45-50 room pueblo sitting high above a limestone cliff and accessible by a series of ladders used to climb into the rooms. With easy access to stones and wood materials around Beaver Creek the pueblos were built mostly by the women while the men took care of the fields, hunting and other related activities.
Earlier visitors to this cliff dwelling at Montezuma and other related pueblos came to visit and find relics and other Indian artifacts for souvenirs. With the passage of Montezuma Castle and nearby Indian cultural sites as National Monuments, these landmarks were saved from massive looting and trespassing to the sacred sites which have had a toll of visitors abusing or even demolishing the sites for the thrill of finding ancient treasures and even staying in many of the dwellings. I learned that Montezuma’s castle was given a national monument certification in 1906 to help preserve the area and prevent the early visitors from camping, looting or even defacing the dwellings and other historic areas of preservation.
You can take a short trail that goes through the cliff dwellings to other dwellings and pueblos nearby and then loop around to Beaver Creek for a water view and distant views back to the main cliff dwelling. Along the way are placards that describe the area, early indigenous people and the daily conditions of farming and living in this region of Southern Arizona.
Wild yellow broom dots the entire landscape around this region along with other low lying ground covers, above, pretty white brugmansia was used by the Indians for medicinal purposes.
Another national monument along the historic Verde Valley is Montezuma’s Well, a large limestone sinkhole that has a deep aquifer that supported the Sinagua people living along the cliffs and pueblos and farming the areas surrounding the well. A short climb up a pathway leads directly to the well and immediately, you can spot some of the remnant cliff dwellings that surround the well. Further along the trail are foundations of standalone pueblos that were also built and supported a farming lifestyle along the arid plains of Central Arizona. The short 1/2 mile hike is fairly easy and scenic walking around the various parts of this national monument – most of the summer time, you will find beautiful wildflowers also dotting the landscape like the yellow broom below.
Along the pathways from Montezuma Well are standalone pueblos made with local stacked stone, many were built for multiple uses and dwellings to house families or other groupings of Indians.
Tip – make sure to take the entire round trip trail since it is relatively short and very scenic of the surrounding canyon areas and other standalone pueblos that you will pass along the way.
The route from Montezuma well to the Sinagua Petroglyphs of Verde Valley is basically a gravel road with hardly a soul passing through which was great considering how dusty the roads were. It didn’t take too long for my cherry red rental car to acquire a white layer of dust all over the front and sides, but it was fun creating all these big dust trails behind my red roadster.
The Sinagua Petroglyphs
At the end of the dirt/gravel road, you reach a T and make a right and follow the signs to the Sinagua Petroglyps at V Bar Ranch (originally a large private cattle ranch) but now is a part of the national park system at Coconino National park. Once past the parking lot, you have to hike through a dirt trail and then check in at the welcome station and sign in to receive a pass. Afterwards, you continue down another gravel path for about a half mile through a relatively flat and scenic meadows and forested areas next to Beaver creek.
While I was visiting there were a variety of wild flowers in bloom including this yellow boom that was prevalent everywhere around the Montezuma castle and well area along with the spiky agave plants sticking out sporadically in the landscape. The Sinagua Petroglyphs are part of the National Park system and requires a permit fee and waiver to use the trails and see the petroglyphs.
Tip – hours are from 9:30 – 3pm and there is no water available on the site so come prepared.
Entering the Petroglyph area
When you enter the petroglyph area (cordoned area along the cliff walls with chain link fence), there will be a ranger on the site giving talks or answering general questions about the petroglyphs and some of the key symbols that show the seasonal plantings, wildlife and other day to day functions happening to the Sinagua people during their stay in the area.
The guide leads you through the various segments of the petroglyphs to explain all the symbols, rituals and daily lifestyle that is shown on these drawings. The red rock art – called Beaver Creek rock art style was dated to around 1,150 to 1,400 AD and highlights a unique solar calendar that was used by the local Sinagua people to start plantings and other seasonal and cultural activities during certain times of the year. This fascinating series of panels was really interesting to witness and have the guide explain many of the relevant imagery and design features of the petroglyphs.
Tip – there are restroom facilities at the visitor center and just outside the fenced area of the petroglyphs. Since the hike is about a half mile each direction, make sure to wear comfortable clothes for the hike.
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Conclusion on Exploring the Montezuma Indian cliff dwellings & well
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