Montezuma Castle National Monument

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Montezuma Castle National Monument
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Montezuma´s castle in Arizona
Map showing the location of Montezuma Castle National Monument
Map showing the location of Montezuma Castle National Monument
Location Yavapai County, Arizona, USA
Nearest city Flagstaff, Arizona
Coordinates 34°36′47″N 111°50′24″W / 34.61306°N 111.84000°W / 34.61306; -111.84000Coordinates: 34°36′47″N 111°50′24″W / 34.61306°N 111.84000°W / 34.61306; -111.84000
Area 859.27 acres (347.73 ha)[1]
Created December 8, 1906 (1906-December-08)
Visitors 573,731 (in 2011)[2]
Governing body National Park Service
Designated: October 15, 1966
Reference No. 66000082[3]

Montezuma Castle National Monument protects a set of well-preserved prehistoric cliff dwellings near the town of Camp Verde, Arizona, United States. The dwellings were built and used by the pre-Columbian Sinagua culture, a group closely related to the Hohokam and other indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States,[4] between approximately 1100 and 1425 AD. The structure is five stories and took more than three centuries to complete.[5] Occupation peaked around 1300 AD.[6]

Neither part of the monument's name is correct. When European-Americans first visited the Sinagua ruins in the 1860s, by then long-abandoned, they named them for the historical Aztec emperor Montezuma in the mistaken belief that the emperor had been connected to their construction.[7] (See also Montezuma (mythology).) In fact, the dwelling was abandoned about 40 years before Montezuma was born, and was not a "castle" in the functional sense, but instead more like a "prehistoric high rise apartment complex".[8]

Several Hopi clans and Yavapai communities trace their ancestries to early immigrants from the Montezuma Castle/Beaver Creek area. Clan members periodically return to these ancestral homes for religious ceremonies.

Cliff dwelling[edit]

A close-up view of the Castle

Montezuma Castle is situated about 90 feet (27 m) up a sheer limestone cliff immediately adjacent to Beaver Creek, which drains into the perennial Verde River just north of Camp Verde. It is one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America, in part because of its ideal placement in a natural alcove that protects it from exposure to the elements. The precariousness of the dwelling's location and its immense scale - almost 4,000 sq ft[convert: unknown unit] of floor space across five stories - suggest that the Sinagua were very daring builders and skilled engineers. Access into the structure was most likely facilitated by a series of portable ladders, which made it incredibly difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate the natural defense of the vertical barrier.[8]


Ruins of permanent Sinagua dwellings like those at Montezuma Castle begin to appear in the archaeological record about 1050 AD, though the first distinctly Sinagua culture may have occupied Arizona's Verde Valley region as early as 700 AD. The area was briefly abandoned due to the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano, about 60 miles (97 km) to the north, in the mid-11th century. It is possible that sediment deposited by the volcano may have aided more expansive agricultural endeavors in the decades following the eruption. During the interim, the Sinagua lived on the hills nearby and sustained themselves on small-scale agriculture dependent on rain. After 1125, the Sinagua resettled the Verde Valley and used irrigation systems left by previous inhabitants, perhaps including Hohokam peoples.[9]

Construction of the Castle itself is thought to have begun around this time, though the building efforts probably occurred gradually, level-by-level, over many generations. The region's population likely peaked around 1300 AD, with the Castle housing between 30 and 50 people in at least 20 separate rooms.[10] A neighboring segment of the same cliff wall suggests the existence of an even larger dwelling (referred to as "Castle A") around the same time, of which only the stone foundations have survived. The discovery of Castle A in 1933 revealed many Sinagua artifacts and greatly increased understanding of their way of life.

The latest estimated date of occupation for any Sinagua site comes from Montezuma Castle, around 1425 AD. After this date, as with other contemporaneous cultural groups in the southwestern United States, the Sinagua people appear to have abandoned their permanent settlements and migrated elsewhere. The reasons for abandonment of these sites are unclear, but drought, resource depletion, and clashes with the newly arrived Yavapai people have been suggested. Due to heavy looting, very few original artifacts remain.

Federal protection[edit]

The monument itself encloses 826 acres and lies at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range physiographic provinces.

Montezuma Castle sits on the cliff face like an aerie.

The dwellings and the surrounding area were declared a U.S. National Monument on December 8, 1906 as a result of the American Antiquities Act, signed earlier in June of the same year. It was one of the four original sites designated National Monuments by President Theodore Roosevelt. The National Monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.[3]

This is an easy monument to visit, a short distance off Interstate 17, exit 289. There is a 13 mile (0.54 km) paved trail starting at the visitor center that follows the base of the cliff containing the ruins. Access to the ruins has not been allowed since 1951 due to extensive damage of the dwelling. About 400,000 tourists visit the site each year. The park is open every day of the year, from 8am–5pm, except for Christmas Day.

The visitor center includes a museum about the Sinagua and the tools they used to build the dwellings. The Montezuma Castle site houses many artifacts, such as stone tools, metates used for grinding corn, bone needles and ornaments of shell and gemstone which prove that the Sinagua were fine artisans. All of these relics are on display at the Montezuma Visitors Center.[11] There is also a gift shop.

Montezuma Well[edit]

Main article: Montezuma Well


Montezuma Castle
(NRHP = National Register of Historic Places)[12]
Historic view of Montezuma Castle, 1887 
Montezuma Castle, c. 1935, Historic American Buildings Survey 
The cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument 
Montezuma Castle in Southern Arizona 
Display which shows how the Pre-Columbian Sinagua people lived in Montezuma Castle, a historic cliff dwelling located in Montezuma Castle National Monument near Camp Verde, Arizona. The display and its contents are the work of an employee of the Bureau of Land Management. 


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-05-14. 
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  3. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  4. ^ "Montezuma Castle National Monument". Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  5. ^ ArizonaGuide
  6. ^ Snow
  7. ^ Protas, Josh (2002). "Explorations, Impressions, and Excavations: The Prehistoric Ruins of the Verde Valley in the Nineteenth Century". Montezuma Castle NM: A Past Preserved in Stone. Western National Parks Association, Tucson, Arizona. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  8. ^ a b "Montezuma Castle". Arizona Leisure. 
  9. ^ "Montezuma Castle National Monument". TLC Guides. 
  10. ^ Snow. p.134.
  11. ^ "Montezuma Castle (National Monument)". Archived from the original on 2008-10-28. 
  12. ^ National Register of Historic Places, Yavapai County


  • Snow, Dean R (2010). Archaeology of Native North America. Boston: Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780136156864. 

External links[edit]