Friday, April 22, 2011

Montezuma Castle ~ Verde Valley ~ Arizona

We had visited Montezuma Castle many years ago and I was excited to see it again so I could take some pictures to share on the blog, seems I didn't take enough pictures back then.  My biggest incentive these days is sharing this way, and I can never have enough pictures!  As we approached the parking lot, I realized that either my memory had failed me or things had changed, I’m going to go with the changes.

Large Arizona Sycamore welcome us to Montezuma Castle
These huge Arizona Sycamore are lining the area with only winter branches to show at this time of year, it would be great to be here later in the spring or summer to see them all dressed.  We enter the site for the Castle through the Visitor Information center to see the park, a $5.00 fee, which also houses a great museum of the artifacts and story of the Sinagua culture.  

Pathway leading us to Montezuma Castle in Verde Valley
This was named Montezuma Castle when it was thought that the Aztec people had come in and built this for their Aztec Emporer of the 1500’s, but it was later learned that was not the case, but his name has stayed with it.  It was declared a National Monument in 1906 by Teddy Roosevelt when only a few artifacts remained, but at least it was now sure to be protected from more losses.

Montezuma Castle in Verde Valley in Arizona
The Montezuma Castle is quite a sight to behold.  It is hard to believe that this cliffside dwelling built from limestone has been here for over 800 years.  There has been a protective layer put on the exterior to prevent the wind and rain from any further damage but the castle remains 90% original and is considered one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the U.S.

Closer view of Montezuma Castle, a National Monument
The castle sits 30 meters (100’) above the floodplains and once housed 35-50 people with 19 rooms and 3 levels.  They built into the deep alcove then added rooms in stages.  They would climb the cliff with ladders then access the castle through a hole in the roof using a ladder, then pull the ladder inside to prevent anyone from invading their home.  The Montezuma Castle was part of a large community of people in the Verde Valley.  It is believed there were as many as 6,000 to 8,000 people living in villages no more than 2 miles apart.

Viewing Montezuma Castle from under the Arizona Sycamore trees
It is difficult to get the scale from the pictures but this one will show better with people walking below it on the pathway.  There has been a viewing patio set up to ponder the story of the Sinagua culture.  After living here for 300 years, they left mysteriously in the 1400’s, never to return.   It is not known if they left due to drought, disease or perhaps invasion, although there appears to be no sign of warfare.  Hopi Indian legend suggests they may have joined them to the northeast. 

The ruins of Castle A in Verde Valley, Arizona
There are other old ruins here, Castle A was excavated in 1933 and many artifacts were found that offered some information on the Sinagua.  There were 45-50 rooms in this castle on 6 levels, much like an apartment dwelling but most of it was destroyed in a fire in the 1400’s.  Castle A had been built near the base of the cliff.  Information says they were related to the others, sharing the land and the food with them.

Beaver Creek runs through Verde Valley, Arizona
Beaver Creek offered the water source for irrigation and made for rich farmland in the Verde Valley. The crops the Sinagua did plant were corn, beans, squash and cotton and they supplemented their crops by gathering from the plantlife in the valley and hunting the wildlife that wandered the area. They appeared to live well and flourished in the Verde Valley.

It is amazing to hear how these people did survive back then, and to actually see their Castle and the work that was done to accomplish this. They raised generations of their people and worked this valley for centuries. We can only marvel at their hard work and then wonder why they would leave. With all that they had invested it would have had to be a necessity to leave their home. Although we have learned much about the Sinagua people, we may never find the answer to that question, not even on Google :).

There are several ruins in this area of Arizona, not all are as preserved as these are.
We also visited Montezuma Well and will share those pictures and story with you, too.

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