It’s a mystery, really. Standing amidst thousand-year-old stone cliff dwellings that archeologists say were suddenly abandoned in the early 1400s, you can’t help wondering what happened. Scientists estimate that the dwellings were used for only about three centuries before the area was suddenly deserted for no discernable reason. Were the ancient residents driven out? Did they die of disease? Deplete their natural resources? Or perhaps they didn’t really disappear, just simply migrated somewhere else?
If you’re heading to Arizona for a little sunshine this winter, you’ll be able to formulate your own theory by visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument. Located in the Verde Valley (about 50 miles south of Flagstaff), these ruins are actually some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the Southwest.
Although it’s not really a castle and Montezuma was never there (early explorers and settlers mistakenly thought the Aztecs had built it), the five-story cliff dwelling is certainly majestic. Perched 100 feet above the valley floor, the 20-room fortress is still 90 percent intact. Although visitors are no longer permitted to go up into the ruins, Montezuma Castle is easily observed from the park’s paved 1/3-mile loop trail, which also meanders through a sycamore grove and along Beaver Creek, one of only a few year-round streams in the state. Interpretive signs along the walkway tell the story of the prehistoric builders and occupants—the Southern Sinaguans, which is Spanish for “without water.” Also spend some time inside the visitor center where beautiful pottery and textiles are displayed, along with other artifacts. Listen in on a ranger program, or join a group walk to learn even more.
Thanks to physical evidence left behind by the Sinaguans, archeologists have concluded quite a bit about their prehistoric culture and lifestyle. But since no separate Sinaguan tribe exists today, their exact fate will never be known. Develop your own conclusions by visiting these fragile and irreplaceable ruins, and don’t forget your camera because the scenery in Arizona’s Verde Valley is first-rate!
For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/moca
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com