Montezuma Castle

Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 3197-3225 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Montezuma Castle Visitor Center
Fee: $10/individual 16 and older
Attractions: Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

Montezuma Castle is located a couple miles north of Camp Verde, Arizona in the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Take exit 289 on I17, which is about 75 north of Phoenix and 55 miles south of Flagstaff. Head east for about 1/2 mile through two round-a-bouts and turn left onto Montezuma Castle Road. Follow the road for about 2 miles to the parking area. The parking area can fill up quickly but vehicles seem to come and go at a regular pace. There is a wide shoulder along the road for buses and over sized vehicles on the hillside after circling through the main parking lot.

The Visitor Center at Montezuma Castle National Monument has flush toilets, a small museum and a gift shop that sells a variety of items including some cold drinks.

There are numerous placards along the trail that offer an abundance of information on the local plant life and the Sinagua people that inhabited the area.

The trail, which has only a minor fluctuation in elevation, is wheelchair accessible except for one small section near the second group of ruins.

The Montezuma Castle ruins are nestled up in the high limestone cliff. The ruins received their name from the first settlers that set their eyes on them that mistakenly assumed that the legendary Montezuma had something to do with them. The cliff ruins are among the best preserved ruins in the entire country. When President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 Montezuma Castle became one of the four newly created National Monuments.

A kiosk at the base of the ruins shows how access up the cliff was made by climbing a series of ladders. Other kiosks depict such things as how the dwellings were constructed along with information about everyday life at the site.

On down the trail from Montezuma Castle is a second set of ruins named 'Castle A'. This set of ruins contained 45-50 additional rooms.

One of the rooms is very well camouflaged but if you look closely you can see where a cave in the side of the mountain was bricked over and appears to be naturally whitewashed by the limestone.

A 'metate', or milling stone, has been left on display in the middle of one of the rooms. With the use of a 'mano', or hand stone, the corn and other grains would have been ground into a fine flour.

A honey cone can be seen within one of the shallow caves.

A cut away model of the cliff dwellings has a push button narrative that seemed to capture the attention of everyone as it seemingly brought the ancient ruins to life.

A Red-tailed hawk circling above the ruins added to the mystique of the tranquil setting of the long ago abandoned ruins. There is something about visiting these ancient sites that peaks our interest in the total strangers that inhabited them and leaves us with a reverent feeling of respect as we study their accomplishments and maybe hope a little that everything turned out well for them. That they lived full and rewarding lives and contributed to their families and communities in a meaningful way. That seems to be what we thrive best doing and maybe in that way we were a little alike.

Montezuma Castle is very easy to access along Interstate 17 and makes for a nice rest stop for travelers between Phoenix and Flagstaff. If you happen to be spending a little more time in the are there are other sites close by like Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot National Monument. There are several picnic tables next to Beaver Creek that are in a very pleasant setting beneath the sycamore trees for enjoying a lunch. If you would like to see them for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'!