Despite the name, the ruins within this monument are neither castle nor Aztec dwelling -- as the reference to Aztec ruler Montezuma implies. This Sinagua ruin is, however, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in Arizona. The site consists of two impressive stone pueblos that were, for some unknown reason, abandoned by the Sinagua people in the early 14th century.
The more intriguing of the two ruins is set in a shallow cave 100 feet up a cliff overlooking Beaver Creek. Construction on this five-story, 20-room village began sometime in the early 12th century. Because Montezuma Castle has been protected from the elements by the overhanging roof of the cave in which it was built, the original adobe mud that was used to plaster over the stone walls of the dwelling is still intact. Another structure, containing 45 rooms on a total of six levels, stands at the base of the cliff. This latter dwelling, which has been subjected to rains and floods over the years, is not nearly as well-preserved as the cliff dwelling. In the visitor center, you'll see artifacts that have been unearthed from the two ruins.
Montezuma Well, located 11 miles north of Montezuma Castle (although still part of the national monument), is a spring-fed sinkhole that was, for the Native peoples of this desert, a genuine oasis. This sunken pond was formed when a cavern in the area's porous limestone bedrock collapsed. Underground springs quickly filled the sinkhole, which today contains a pond measuring more than 360 feet across and 65 feet deep. Over the centuries, the presence of year-round water attracted first the Hohokam and later the Sinagua peoples, who built irrigation canals to use the water for growing crops. Some of these channels can still be seen. An excavated Hohokam pit house, built around 1100, and Sinagua structures are clustered in and near the sinkhole. To reach Montezuma Well, take exit 293 off I-17.
- © Frommer's 2013
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