Explore N. Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument

One of the most significant and best-preserved sites is conveniently located just off a major interstate highway. An easily accessed, third-of-a-mile paved trail leads visitors past the 20-room “high rise” dubbed Montezuma Castle, a protected site since 1906. The impressive Sinagua cliff dwellings always beg the question, “How did prehistoric people get up there?” and chief ranger Ed Cummins in always happy to answer.

“They used ladders! Maybe not aluminum ones like we have today, but ladders nonetheless.”

Within a dozen miles of the castle is Montezuma Wall, an intriguing limestone basin lined with more cliff dwellings and half-filled with waters home to unique species of invertebrate. The well was an important water source for ancient residents, and a 1,000-year-old irrigation ditch employed by the Sinagua is still used by local residents today.

Daily ranger talks at the castle offer this and other insights into the people’s way of life; but don’t expect the same talk twice. Rangers have free range when it comes to discussing the monument. One thread is common to all ranger-led talks though.

“We always hope to get people thinking a little deeper,” Cummins says. And staring up at the castle’s ruddy cliffs or down into the well’s azure water, you can’t help but wonder what life was like here in the 13th century.

Between Sedona and Phoenix, I-17, exit 289, 928.567.3322, www.nps.gov/moca