Montezuma’s Castle

Montezuma never slept a night in Montezuma’s Castle.  He never even got near it, nor is the castle a part of Apache history.  Long after the site was abandoned, the six-story cliff dwelling was discovered by white men, who gave it the name that stuck.  Montezuma’s Castle is a 20-room structure that was home to 35 people. 

The stratified limestone cliffs were formed over millions of years by the remains of crustacean sea life from when the area was a large inland sea. 

The earliest settlers in the area are believed to be the Hohokam Indians,  1200-1400 years ago.  The masonry structures were built about 850 years ago by the Sinagua (“without water”) Indians, who occupied them for 150-200 years.

Today the site, maintained by the National Park Service, offers more than a thousand people a day the easy stroll  from the visitor center to the base of the castle.  

There, Larry, the volunteer interpreter spoke of the customs and artifacts of those who lived there and answered our questions.

Did they build on cliffs for defense?

Since the inhabitants of the area were not militant, it is not likely the 100-foot high structure was designed to be defensive.  It is thought that simple spirituality moved the original builders to choose a site that required 40 feet of ladders and several traverses to access their condominium. 

Why were these settlements and many others in Arizona abandoned?

The best guess is climate change, a long period of below average rainfall depleted the water for agriculture.  The game animals also left and the people did not have sufficient resources to survive in that location. 

How did they carry groceries and water up ladders? on their backs?

They had them delivered.

9 Responses to Montezuma’s Castle

  1. tanya grove says:

    Maybe they had a system of pulleys, but I like the idea that everything was delivered…

    • allevenson says:

      They surely did have pulleys. They had rope which they wove from the fibrous innards of the yucca plant. And they would have had manpower. Put a few people on the top end of the rope and they could lift a Trader Joe’s shopping cart full of groceries.

  2. robbie says:

    how close to the lovely Sedona is this place? I might get to see it someday.

  3. Vernon Dolphin says:

    Good pictures, Al. when I taught at Arizona State U. We as a family of five kids went through all the by ways your into. that was sixty years ago.

    Things ain’t the same now, since I have gone back on occasion. They were rather primitve, still gloating over the win with the Yavapai, the Apache and Geronimo.

    But I’m with you at every turn. Keep the news notes coming.


  4. Gloria Reid says:

    Great photos. This brings fond memories of my time in Sedona a couple of years ago and my visit to Montezuma’s Castle. Keep having fun!

  5. karen wittgraf says:

    Gee- I was told there is no such thing as “climate change”. It flashed through my mind as I read your blog that perhaps my “watery” Minnesota could some day dry up also. Wonder if they had a problem with bats, or possibly buzzards? That would be my biggest concern.

  6. Linda Brown says:

    This place is special and one of the first “sites” to see when visiting my mother-in-law.

  7. Colleen Rae says:

    Great photos. Thanks, Al. Brings back memories of a week I spent in Sedona at a painting workshop. Afterwards visited Montezuma’s Castle. Since I am proud of the native american I have in me, I always day-dream about living in that era. Could have been a hard life…

  8. Marny says:

    Ahhh, back in the days when I could walk down from the parking lot, which is above the dwelling — or was, if memory still serves me, this was great to see. My friends were frightened off the bench because of a snake being curious around their feet. I was down the path, looking up!

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