Back for More Arizona - Winter 2014 travel blog

Montezuma's Castle





The Southern Sinagua people moved into the Sedona area about 1125 and stayed for about two hundred years. They began building masonry structures, usually alongside streams. After about 1150 the pueblos got larger and were often on hilltops or in cliff alcoves. No one knows why they migrated away again in the 1400's. It may have been overpopulation, depletion of resources, disease, conflicts between groups or perhaps spiritual beliefs. But by the time the Europeans showed up here, all that remained was remnants of their buildings. The Europeans named this native group Sinagua, meaning without water, not realizing that they had learned how to irrigate crops. Let's face it, no one can live without water. They named one of the tallest ruins Montezuma's Castle. Montezuma was a famous Aztec, but there never were any Aztec around here. The name stuck anyway. The castle was once an imposing five story building with about 45 rooms. Probably so much of it still remains, because it was tucked beneath a cliff ledge, somewhat protected from the elements.

As the national park movement began, people understood how precious these remaining structures were and Tuzigoot, built high on top of a hill and Montezuma's Castle were declared national monuments. Over the years the park service has wrestled with how best to present these structures. In some sections they were rebuilt and in others they continue to deteriorate. Tuzigoot pueblo was two stories high in places with 87 ground floor rooms. There were few exterior doors; entry was by ladders through roof openings. Museums are part of these monuments and display tools, baskets, ceramic shards and other items found on site that help us to understand how these people lived.

The Palatiki ruins were a bit more challenging to visit and are not under the protection of the park service. They are at the end of a dirt road that gets locked every day at 3pm. Two volunteer camping couples park their rigs at the end of the road for six months and give short tours of the ruins. Probably there are not part of the national park service, because so little of the structure is left. You really had to use your imagination. Reservations are required and we felt lucky to get in to see the remains of the structures as well as a nice collection of petroglyphs.

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