I’ve lived in many high-rise apartments, but none had the amazing view that Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot have in the Verde Valley, north of Phoenix.
An imposing and majestic 20 room cliff dwelling that stands in a recessed cliff one hundred feet above Camp Verde is considered to be the best preserved and most easily accessible cliff ruins in the country.
Montezuma’s Castle tells a 1,000 year old story of survival and ingenuity. Built by Sinagua farmers in the 12th century Montezuma Castle is framed by a picturesque creek; the main reason the land was fertile grounds for corn, beans, squash and cotton. When you visit you can imagine its regal state and how peaceful life must have been back then, but in actuality it was chosen because of its hidden features making it more of a fortress to fend off attacks.
It’s been more than 50 years since the park has allowed visitors to actually access the inside of the dwellings. There are videos that you can view at the visitors center that provide an insiders’ view. The decision to no longer allow inside access is the reason why these ruins are very well preserved. You’ll enjoy a casual walk around the grounds in order to take it all in.
A spring-fed limestone sinkhole formed by the collapse of an ancient cavern, the Montezuma Well is an added feature to Montezuma Castle National Monument. Walking around you’ll see more prehistoric ruins that remain from early Hohokam and Sinagua occupation. Both cultures lived at the site and built ancient irrigation canals to irrigate their crops. Underground springs pump more than a million gallons of water a day into the well.
Crowning a desert hilltop is an ancient pueblo, Tuzigoot National Monument another structure built by the Sinagua people between 1125 and 1400 CE. Tuzigoot preserves a 2 to 3 story pueblo ruin on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge just down the freeway from Montezuma Castle. Apache for “crooked water” Tuzigoot is 120 feet above the Verde River floodplain.
Once a lush, tropical oasis amidst unforgiving desert, Tuzigoot holds court over a culture long lost. More than 20,000 artifacts, such as axes, cookware, pottery, clothing, and artwork, are now on display in the Tuzigoot National Monument museum.
Both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot are managed by the National Park Service, but Tuzigoot may be more popular with kids due to the fact that you can actually walk in and around the structure.
Montezuma Castle & Tuzigoot
Entrance Fee: $5.00 per person, children 16 and younger are admitted free of charge.
Summer Hours: 8:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Winter Hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Montezuma Well – No entrance fee. The Well is located approximately 11 miles from Montezuma Castle. Take Exit 293 from I-17 and drive four miles. There is a 1/3-mile loop trail that is not recommended for wheelchair use.
Directions from Phoenix to Montezuma Castle: take I-17 north to exit 289 Exit 289 and follow the signs 3 miles to the Visitor Center parking lot. From there, to get to Tuzigoot, go back to I-17 to the 260 cutoff toward Cottonwood. Take 279, the old road through Cottonwood, to Clarkdale and follow the signs to Tuzigoot.
Photos courtesy of Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot