If I was to tell you that out of all fifty states, Arizona has the most National Monuments; chances are you would not believe me. However, this is a fact, as Arizona has eighteen National Monuments, and the next closest state, New Mexico only has twelve. And, for bonus trivia points, the difference between a National Monument and a National Park is that the President of the United States can create a National Monument without Congressional approval and that a National Park must be enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President. Placing questions of law and land use aside, all of the National Monuments and State Parks present in Arizona mean that there’s plenty to do other than go to the Grand Canyon.
One of the more interesting and little known National Monuments present in Arizona is Montezuma’s Castle. The Castle itself is one of two companion National Monuments in the Verde Valley/White Hills region of Arizona, the second being Tuzigoot National Monument (which I’ll discuss next week). Montezuma’s Castle is interesting because of what it is not. First, it is not a castle, it’s a cliff dwelling. Second, Montezuma never lived there. Third, it was inhabited by the Sinagua people – but around 1400 A.D., the site was abandoned by these people, and was uninhabited by the time it was re-discovered by settlers. Fifth, while it’s a great example of Native American cliff dwellings, it’s not even the largest example at the site – the “Castle A” remnants are ruins of a much larger structure. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me any one of these five points provides something interesting to speculate and ruminate on while you visit the site.
Directions: Per the National Park Service, you’re going to want to take Interstate 17 to exit 289 (which is 90 minutes north of Phoenix, and 45 minutes south of Flagstaff). From Exit 289, drive East through two traffic circles (I know, bizarre, right? Another mystery – why two traffic circles in the middle of Arizona?) for a half mile (.5) to the blinking red light, where you will turn left and follow Montezuma Castle Road into the park. Once you enter the park, there is ample parking next to the visitor center. Once you have explored the visitor center to your heart’s content, there is a 1/3 (.33) of a mile interpretive trail that leads past the ruins of both Montezuma’s Castle and Castle A. The trail is flat, paved, and contains great views of the ruins and interpretive panels regarding the area.
Tips: Unless you have a time machine, and can travel back to before 1951, you will not be allowed to enter the ruins of Montezuma’s Castle or Castle A (and yes, the National Park Service did allow people into the ruins until that point). However, the interpretive trail does provide some great views of the ruins. While you are on the interpretive trail, you will also be next to Beaver Creek (which no doubt provided water for the early inhabitants and their crops) which is one of the few year-round creeks in Arizona. If you’re itching to actually explore some ruins though, you’re stuck with two options: 1) become a Ninja and sneak in at night; or 2) visit Tuzigoot, which I’ll talk about next week!