Let’s get one thing straight right from the get-go. Even though this is referred to as Montezuma Castle, the great Aztec chief himself never lived in this settlement nor contributed to its development; as this Pueblo was built over centuries and then abandoned at least 40 years prior to his birth.
It has been years since I have been to this sacred place that was once home to the Sinagua people but is now the home of the National Monument that honors them. I still remember the raw feelings of the life force that still swirls throughout the canyon as well as a sense of awe that these native people, who lived so long ago, could design buildings and pottery that were so impressive and long lasting. Descendants of these ancient people live on in the Hopi and other native peoples of the Southwest.
The Castle sits about 90 ft up a sheer limestone cliff and was built over time and occupied from about 1100-1450 AD. though there is archaeological evidence that the Sinagua were in the area since 700 AD. The main building contains about 20 rooms and is approximately five stories high. It was built within an alcove which allowed it to remain protected from the elements and was placed high enough to avoid the seasonal flooding that occurred on Beaver Creek which lay directly below this village. It is constructed from huge chunks of limestone and from clay obtained from the creek bed beneath the Pueblo. The ceilings were made of thatch that was procured from the Arizona sycamore.
One of the more interesting facts about Montezuma Castle was that it was abandoned for some time due to volcanic eruption of Sunset Crater but was later re-occupied and agricultural production was resumed after the effects of the eruption diminished.
The dwellings and the 860 acres that surround them were declared a United States National Monument in 1906 with the signing of the American Antiquities Act. Early visitors were allowed to climb ladders into the buildings but due to damage from these well meaning visitors the practiced was halted in 1951. Today you can only see Montezuma Castle from viewing platforms or along the 1/3 mile loop trail that winds below the pueblo. However, it is easy to learn about Sinagua culture and see artifacts from the area at the Visitor Center.
This National Park is located near Camp Verde, Arizona off Interstate 17. It is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. everyday except Christmas.
There is a $10 fee to enter Montezuma Castle and the Tuzigoot National Monument which is valid for 7 days. Children under 15 are free.
HINT: Buy a National Park Pass ($80) which allows access to all National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands for a year for the pass holder + 2 adults. And if you are 62 years of age or older A Senior Pass can be purchased for $10 which allows you and three adults into all the National Parks without incurring additional entrance fees.